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President's Trip to Asia and Australia to Stress Security and Cooperation

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 15, 2003 – President Bush's trip to Asia that begins Oct. 17 will stress security and cooperation. Plans include stops in Australia, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand.

The trip to the region will "stress the crucial importance of our long- standing alliances in the region," said National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice during a White House press briefing Oct. 14. She noted the president will also "herald the transitions to democracy that are enhancing our partnerships" and "express his gratitude to these nations for their cooperation and support in the global war on terror."

While in Bangkok, Thailand, Bush will deliver remarks to the Royal Thai army, "who have been integral contributors to Afghanistan and Iraq." The president's plans include holding bilateral meetings with the presidents of South Korea, Mexico and China.

Bush will also attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders conference in Bangkok. Rice noted that the United States has received "really excellent cooperation" from many APEC countries, singling out Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines.

"Part of what the president will want to do is to encourage those governments in Southeast Asia to remain as they have been, to remain resolute in the fight on terrorism, to see what more we can do to assist," she said. "We are, of course, assisting in a major way in the Philippines, where we've been helping in training in the Philippine army to deal with the Abu Sayyaf group and with other terrorist groups.

"But we have really excellent relations with these governments. They face real challenges, and this is an opportunity for the president to talk about that and to talk about practical ways that we might enhance cooperation," she continued. "It's one reason that we believe APEC needs to discuss security issues, because while APEC is an economic forum, economics and security are inextricably linked.

"You only have to look at what happened in a place like Bali (Indonesia), when you had the terrorist attack there, you can see that the economy and terrorism are linked. So this is a place, this is a region with a lot of challenges, and it will be a major issue."

Rice pointed out that that clamping down on al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in certain regions causes them to "emerge some place else, and ... that's why these cooperative efforts that we have with the Southeast Asians are so important. It's why it's important for APEC to take up the issue."

The president's schedule also calls for him to meet with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri and with "moderate Muslim leaders to pay tribute to the tradition of religious tolerance in the world's most populous Muslim nation," Rice noted.

In Australia, Bush will meet with Prime Minister John Howard and will address the Australian Parliament. That country was a major contributor of coalition military forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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