LIMA, PERU — President Bush arrived in South America on Friday for the final scheduled foreign trip of his presidency, hoping to bolster confidence in efforts to rescue the global economy and move forward on North Korean nuclear disarmament.
The 21 member nations of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, whose summit Bush is attending, account for nearly half of all global trade and 55% of the world's gross domestic product, reflecting in part the ascendance of East Asia and China. Among the organization's members are China and Russia. The Latin American members are Peru, Chile and Mexico.
"APEC is an important meeting at this time, particularly given the financial situation in the world," Bush said in a pre-summit interview with Peru's America Television.
Bush is expected to urge support for the consensus that he and other world leaders backed last weekend in Washington. The leaders of the so-called Group of 20, composed of major countries with developed or emerging economies, signed off on a blueprint to spur economic growth and resist new trade barriers, while also calling for improved oversight and regulation.
The president "will be seeking to build on the results" of the Washington conclave, Dan Price, assistant to Bush for international economic affairs, told reporters en route to Lima.
Most APEC members appear likely to back the Bush administration's argument that nations should not turn to protectionism in the midst of economic turmoil.
"At APEC, we hope the leaders will endorse and support the declaration adopted at the [Washington] summit," Price said.
The economic news from the United States has grown worse over most of the last week. The number of unemployment claims soared, the battered auto industry sought a bailout and Wall Street losses mounted before a strong rally Friday.
Dana Perino, the presidential press secretary, didn't answer directly when asked whether the economy was going in the right direction. "We didn't promise immediate results," she said.
Bush is to take part in a number of one-on-one sessions in Peru, including a private meeting held Friday with Chinese President Hu Jintao. The issue of North Korean nuclear disarmament was expected to come up in discussions with Hu and the leaders of Japan and South Korea.
China hosts the so-called six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program. North Korea is seeking economic and diplomatic concessions in exchange for dismantling its nuclear operations.
"Our primary goal is to get back to the negotiating table in Beijing," Dennis Wilder, senior director for East Asia at the National Security Council, told reporters on Air Force One.
The hope, Wilder said, is to have a date set in early December for a meeting on North Korea. Bush leaves office Jan. 20, and the North Korean nuclear issue will be a major challenge facing President-elect Barack Obama.
"What I hope we leave in place for the next administration, and what I think we can," Wilder said, "is a very viable six-party process, a commitment on all parts that this is the way to negotiate the ultimate de-nuclearization of the North Korean peninsula and the normalization of relations in Northeast Asia."
It was unclear whether Bush would meet one-on-one with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a time when relations between the former Cold War rivals are again strained. Russia's recent war with Georgia and U.S. plans to install a missile defense system in Eastern Europe are among the controversies that have chilled diplomacy between Moscow and Washington.
Bush, on his ninth trip to Latin America, is also seeking to blunt criticism that his administration is bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and has ignored the region. Polls in Latin America indicate that the president is extremely unpopular there.
Bush said in the America Television interview that he had traveled frequently to Latin America to dispel the idea that he was focused only on the Middle East.
In central Lima, protesters held signs calling Bush a war criminal and telling him that he wasn't welcome. But security was tight and demonstrators could not get near the seaside Marriott hotel where he and his entourage were staying.
Hosting Bush is Peruvian President Alan Garcia, a onetime leftist who is now a dedicated free-trader and one of Washington's closest allies in the region.
Peruvian and U.S. officials are hoping to conclude a free-trade agreement before Bush leaves office.
Special correspondent Adriana Leon contributed to this report.