| President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush tour the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok on Sunday. (AP)
Bangkok, Oct. 19 (Reuters): President George W. Bush rewarded Thailand today for supporting the war on terror and told other nations gathering for a Pacific Rim summit they too had to bind together to end the threat.
Bush also said the US would not sign a non-aggression pact with North Korea to end its nuclear weapons programme but, for the first time, held out the possibility of giving Pyongyang some sort of security guarantee.
His comments set the tone for the two-day summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum beginning in the Thai capital tomorrow with US concerns on terror and nuclear proliferation likely to dominate the agenda.
Some Asian nations say they would prefer to concentrate on promoting trade, the original goal of Apec when the 21-member group was formed in 1989, especially after the collapse of world trade talks in Cancun, Mexico, last month.
Washington has agreed to discuss trade but says growth and prosperity are not possible without ensuring security, a line it has pursued since the September 11, 2001, attacks.
“This is still a dangerous world,” Bush told reporters, using the broadcast of a new audio tape purportedly recorded by militant leader Osama bin Laden to bolster his case.
In the tapes aired by Qatar-based Arabic television station Al Jazeera yesterday, the speaker vowed more suicide attacks inside and outside the US and warned all countries backing Washington on Iraq that they too were targets.
“I think that the bin Laden tape should say to everybody the war on terror goes on, that there’s still a danger for free nations and that free nations need to work together more than ever,” Bush said.
China however ensured not everything would be dictated by a US script. President Hu Jintao, speaking at a meeting of businessmen ahead of the summit, rebuffed Washington’s call that Beijing revalue its currency, saying holding the yuan steady suited China and was a benefit to Asia and the world. But he was conciliatory after a meeting with Bush and said the two nations would discuss economic disputes.
“We stated our readiness to resolve whatever questions that might emerge in our economic exchanges and trade through dialogue,” Hu said, although he did not refer to the US demands on the yuan.
Bush promised to launch negotiations with Thailand on a comprehensive free trade agreement, which would be of immense value to the southeast Asian nation as it seeks to secure markets for its agricultural products.
He made it clear it was a reward for helping the US in the war on terror, most visibly demonstrated by Thailand’s capture of al Qaida leader Hambali in August. “Thailand pledged to fight the war on terror, and that pledge is being honoured in full,” Bush said.
“The United States of America has made its choice. The Kingdom of Thailand has made its choice. We will meet this danger,” he told soldiers of the Royal Thai Army.
Apec members include Japan, Peru, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, tiny Papua New Guinea and a clutch of southeast Asian nations. Several in the group are struggling to contain militancy within their borders, including Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, Russia and the Philippines.
The group also includes nations which clashed bitterly in Cancun, causing the collapse of negotiations deemed crucial to completing the so-called Doha round of World Trade Organisation talks by the end of 2004.
Apec foreign and trade ministers reached a broad consensus yesterday on the need for fresh efforts to put the derailed talks back on track, although few believed there was more on offer than rhetoric.