The nations of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum have concluded their summit with pledges to cooperate more closely in the fight against terrorism. The meeting also provided an opportunity for President Bush to advance his efforts to disarm Iraq and persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
In the final statement from this APEC summit, read by Mexican President Vicente Fox, the leaders of the 21 Pacific Rim nations pledged themselves to reduce trade barriers, streamline commerce and work together against terrorism. In regard to the latter, the statement made reference to the deadly bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines in the days before the meeting began.
"We condemn in the strongest terms recent terrorist acts in the APEC region, and reaffirm our determination to enhance cooperation in countering and responding to terrorism," Mr. Fox said.
In private meetings here, President Bush discussed both the North Korea nuclear weapons program and the possible use of force against Iraq. Although APEC members backed him in calling on North Korea to stop its nuclear weapons program, there were no firm commitments on the issue of Iraq.
United Nations Security Council permanent members Russia and France have opposed the U.S.-proposed resolution that would authorize the use of force, if Iraq fails to comply with weapons inspections. Russian President Vladimir Putin was to have been here for this meeting, but he canceled his trip, because of the hostage-taking incident last week at a Moscow theater.
APEC leaders backed a U.S. proposal called Secure Trade in the APEC Region, or STAR, to protect key transport, finance and information systems from terrorists. Among the STAR components are strict security measures at seaports and airports to prevent terrorists from concealing weapons or other dangerous materials in legitimate shipments. The APEC leaders also agreed to work together to choke off terrorist financing and to enhance Internet security.
One of the specific actions to be taken under STAR is the forwarding of passenger lists for all boats and planes leaving one APEC nation bound for another. The plan also includes the eventual installation of special scanning devices to check cargo shipments, before they leave a port. In order to attack terrorist financing, the APEC member nations agreed to improve monitoring of non-profit organizations and informal banking networks that have sometimes been used by terrorists.
Security at this APEC summit was tight. Some 3,000 Mexican soldiers and police officers were posted around the area for the event, and Mexican navy ships could be seen in the waters off the coast.
Hundreds of business leaders from the APEC member nations were also on hand for this meeting, and voiced support for these security measures. The business chiefs say economic development and trade cannot expand, unless there is a secure environment for commerce. However, some business representatives expressed concern that vital trade issues have now taken a back seat, as the forum concentrates on the issue of terrorism.
This is the second year in a row that security and the fight against terrorism have dominated APEC summit discussions. The last meeting, in Shanghai, China, took place six weeks after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.
APEC was formed in 1989 as a trade association aimed at bringing together the nations of Asia with the nations on the other side of the Pacific in the Americas. APEC member nations have a total population of 2.6 billion people, and account for about half the global economy.