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Bush Promotes Democracy and Freedom in Run-up to APEC Summit


U.S. President George Bush covered some old ground with Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday, on the eve of the Pacific rim summit in Sydney. VOA White House correspondent Paula Wolfson reports that Mr. Bush also had some pointed words about democracy and freedom for Mr. Putin and some of the other APEC leaders.

Presidents Bush and Putin last met on the shores of the northeastern state of Maine, at the rambling stone house that has been the Bush family vacation home for generations.

The talks in Sydney Friday covered many of the same topics: most notably, missile defense, and Iran.

Russia has been reluctant to accept strong sanctions on the Iranian government as a means to pressure Tehran to curb its nuclear ambitions. But following the meeting with President Bush, President Putin spoke of cooperation on the issue.

"And I would like to say that Russia intends and is prepared to continue this work with our partners and colleagues within the framework of the IAEA and the United Nations," he said.

President Bush called the meeting cordial and constructive. But earlier in the day, in a speech to a meeting of business leaders, the president had a warning for the Putin government.

"We will continue to work with nations like Russia to advance our shared interests, while encouraging Russia's leaders to respect the checks and balances that are essential to democracy," he said.

Russia was not the only country to be chided gently by the U.S. president. Mr. Bush went on to urge China to open up its political system and give greater voice to its people. He reminded the Chinese government that when the 2008 Summer Olympics open, the eyes of the world will be on Beijing.

"It is going to be a great moment of pride for the Chinese people," he said. "It will also be a moment where China's leaders can use this opportunity to use this moment to show confidence by demonstrating a commitment to greater openness and tolerance."

The president also met on Friday with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - or ASEAN. During their talks, he invited members of the alliance to come to his home state of Texas.

Aides say it is an invitation in principle. They say no decision has been made about just who will represent ASEAN member Burma, since leaders of its military government, who refuse to allow democratic reforms, are barred from the United States.

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