U.S. President George Bush has arrived in Seoul, South Korea, the
first stop on a week-long Asian tour that will also take him to
Thailand and China for the opening of the Beijing Olympics. VOA's
Paula Wolfson reports from the South Korean capital, where thousands of
South Koreans opposed to the resumption of U.S. beef imports protested.
This is likely to be Mr. Bush's last trip to Asia as president. And he has a full agenda for his talks with South Korean, Thai and Chinese leaders - from North Korea's nuclear ambitions, to trade, to human rights.
In Seoul, he will discuss security and finance matters with President Lee Myung-bak. But North Korea is likely to be the issue that hangs over all else.
President Bush has said he welcomes North Korea's recent declaration of its plutonium enrichment activities, and the destruction of the cooling tower at its Yongbyon reactor. But he says the North must still agree to a verification process.
"They're a highly sanctioned regime," said the U.S. president. "And, as I said, they've got a lot of obligations that they must fulfill in order for these sanctions to leave."
Protests over US beef imports delayed president's visit to Seoul
Mr. Bush was originally expected to visit South Korea last month. But the trip was postponed following massive demonstrations in Seoul against imports of American beef.
Overall, passions have cooled in recent weeks. But as the president arrived in the South Korean capital, roughly 20,000 protesters gathered in the city. There were about a dozen arrests and there have been reports police used water cannons to keep demonstrators from blocking a major city street.
All the same, there has been no word of any major clashes between demonstrators and some of the more than 16,000 law enforcement officers put on stand-by to handle any unruly crowds.
Trip to Thailand will include border visit for Mrs. Bush
Mr. Bush's reception in Thailand is likely to be much more sedate. Officially, he is going to Bangkok to mark the 175th anniversary of U.S.-Thai relations, and to deliver a speech that will be, in essence, an assessment of his Asia policies.
But going to Thailand also provides an opportunity to highlight conditions in neighboring Burma. It will also give First Lady Laura Bush, who has made Burma a personal cause, a chance to tour a refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border and meet face to face with some of the victims of Burma's military regime.
"The more I've seen, the more critical I see the need is for the people in Burma to be for the world to pay attention to the people of Burma, and for the world to put pressure on the military regime," she said.
From Thailand, the president and Mrs. Bush will go to Beijing, where he will be playing two roles: leader of the United States and sports fan.
Bush looking forward to Beijing Olympics, despite criticism over human rights
He says he will raise concerns about human rights and other issues with Chinese leaders in private, but will not use the Olympics to make a political statement.
"I am looking forward to cheering the athletes," said President Bush. "I think it will be - I think it would be good for these athletes who have worked so hard to see their president waving the flag."
During an interview with The Washington Post newspaper, conducted during the flight from Washington to Seoul, the president talked about the evolution of U.S.-China relations during his years in office.
He praised China's efforts to curb the nuclear ambitions of both North Korea and Iran. But he acknowledged it is very difficult to determine if there has been any improvement in human rights in China over the last eight years. And he expressed disappointment that Chinese actions helped scuttle the latest round of world trade talks.