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Analysis: Whether Or Not The President Is Making His Case Heard At The APEC Meeting

Weekend Edition Sunday: October 27, 2002

APEC Meetings

LIANE HANSEN, host:

President Bush is discussing Iraq, North Korea, and the continuing threat of terrorism around the world at an annual economics summit with leaders of 21 Pacific Rim nations. The two-day event is being held in Cabo San Lucas, a resort located at the southern tip of Mexico's Baja Peninsula. It wraps up today. The president has found strong backing for his call for a diplomatic response to North Korea's revelation that it has an active nuclear weapons program. Mr. Bush is finding less support for his position on Iraq.

NPR's Don Gonyea is traveling with the president. He joins us now.

Hi, Don.

DON GONYEA reporting:

Good morning.

HANSEN: This is supposed to be an economic conference, a place where you discuss trade and markets and other issues, but the president's agenda seems to be on Iraq and on North Korea. Is this unusual?

GONYEA: There are a couple of answers to that. First, whenever the president sits down with other world leaders and, in this case, a big group here at the so-called APEC meeting, he's going to make his case for taking a very hard line with Iraq. For a UN resolution with consequences, is how he describes it. And North Korea is a more recent development but one that caught the administration off guard and one it really feels compelled to address right now. But maybe the broader answer to the question is that the president says the fate of these country's economies is forever linked to their ability to work together to minimize the threat of terrorist attack around the world. And the president certainly sees Iraq as part of that threat.

Liane, this, too, is the second straight APEC summit where terror has been the major topic. Last year the meeting was in Shanghai. It was just weeks after September 11th. This one comes just weeks after that bomb attack in Bali. So they're going to be talking about it. It's not also that they're ignoring trade. We will see some agreements come out of here to promote the flow of goods and in one very clear link between trade and terror is protection of ports and airports and rail lines and they're working on some uniform standards in terms of security.

HANSEN: The president wanted to talk about North Korea there, though, because of their revelation, again, about the nuclear weapons program, which is in violation of agreements with the US. What is it exactly that the president hoped to accomplish in Mexico regarding North Korea?

GONYEA: Well, again, it's a lot of talking. The president had a series of meetings with individual leaders here yesterday from South Korea, from Japan. A day earlier he hosted the president of China at his ranch. But yesterday the US, South Korea and Japan issued a joint statement condemning North Korea's effort to develop nuclear weapons. They called for the dismantling of that program in a verifiable way. Separately, we heard from a senior administration official who suggested that North Korea needs to be isolated, even more than it already is, by other nations in the region, and North Korea, he said, needs to know that there's an economic cost to this position. But Secretary of State Powell, who's also here, stressed that a diplomatic solution doesn't mean a negotiation or a give and take with North Korea on this.

HANSEN: Now Iraq--what has the president been hearing from the other APEC nations about Iraq?

GONYEA: It's not the same as he's hearing on North Korea. There are differences. He's getting less support on Iraq. On North Korea, the US is calling for diplomacy. In Iraq, there's a real threat of war. The US says Iraq is unique and requires that stronger response. But that is proving to be a hard sell here, as it is at the UN where debate is also currently under way.

HANSEN: And, of course, where does all this leave that effort for the president to get something he likes out of the UN, where the question of what to do with Iraq is being debated, as you just said?

GONYEA: Well--right. Secretary of State Powell yesterday said he wants to see a vote come up in the UN soon. He said they can't just continue an open-ended debate on this, that goes on and on and on. At some point, and, again, he says, that point is coming up soon. The president needs to know where the UN stands. And whether the UN supports the White House position or doesn't, the president will then make the decisions he needs to make and we have repeatedly heard the president say he's prepared to build a coalition and move on Iraq if necessary without the backing of the United Nations.

HANSEN: NPR's Don Gonyea traveling with the president. Thanks very much, Don.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

HANSEN: It's 18 minutes past the hour.

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From March 18 to June 21, 2002, Weekend Edition Sunday host Liane Hansen will serve as an interim host on All Things Considered, while its co-host Noah Adams is on leave to write a book. Until Hansen returns to Weekend Edition Sunday in July, NPR's Lynn Neary will host.