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Summit offers glimpse of second-term diplomatic agenda
By Finlay Lewis
Copley News Service
SANTIAGO, Chile - President Bush used a weekend summit of Pacific Rim nations here to leave a trail of tantalizing clues about the shape and content of his foreign policy during his second term in office.
Less than three weeks after telling a post-election news conference that he intends to consult more closely with allies, Bush offered a practical demonstration Saturday morning of what he has in mind by personally lobbying the regional government leaders who have the greatest stake in containing North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
One by one, the leaders of China, Russia, South Korea and Japan all fell into line with Bush as they gathered for the opening of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. In prospect is the resumption of six-party talks over North Korea's nukes.
But then hours later, the American president waded into a potentially combustible situation to overrule Chilean security forces who were attempting to bar a Secret Service agent assigned to the Bush detail from an elaborate summit dinner. Standing nearby was the Chilean president, Ricardo Lagos, who was not consulted but who almost certainly could have resolved the situation quickly and amicably.
Governments around the world are likely to be weighing both developments - Bush's solicitous personal diplomacy versus his impulsive intervention - for a broader message about what they can expect out of the world's lone superpower for the foreseeable future.
Richard Feinberg, director of the APEC Study Center at the University of California San Diego, said that other governments during the post-election period will be looking for signals as to whether Bush will be "reaching for his holster or for handshakes."
"What worries people around the world is that the real George Bush is the one with the Texas swagger," Feinberg said.
In their subsequent efforts to depict the Saturday evening shoving match as an isolated incident, White House officials attempted to make sure that the lasting image from the summit was the one of the consultative Bush, touching base with allies about one of the world's most dangerous situations.
Bush played that role to the hilt.
He did so in a series of photo ops and public statements on Saturday - all leading to a carefully orchestrated show of unity among Japan, South Korea, China, Russia and the United States over the next moves in solving the North Korean problem by peaceful means.
For allies concerned by what they perceived as Bush's penchant for dominating the world stage in a solo role during his first term, his performance must have been reassuring.
In that sense, the Bush who sought to harmonize the tactics and strategies of North Korea's neighbors seemed like a more measured world leader than the one four years ago who abruptly humiliated his own secretary of state, Colin Powell, on the same subject.
Shortly after Bush's inauguration, Powell used a Washington visit by Kim Dae-jung, the South Korean president at the time, to declare that the Bush administration would pursue President Bill Clinton's policy of using inducements to persuade Pyongyang to discontinue its nuclear program.
The new American president promptly shocked Kim - and Powell - by saying that the Clinton approach had placed too much trust in the isolated Stalinist regime that rules the northern half of the Korean peninsula, and would be abandoned.
There is no doubt that Bush's views about the rulers in Pyongyang remain unchanged and critics insist that his approach of only dealing with that regime through the mechanism of the six-party talks represents a process and not a policy.
Meanwhile, the United States' image took a sustained battering over the weekend, at least in Chile. Television stations here and throughout the region offered constant replays of the Saturday night shoving incident at the banquet hall door.
Compounding the problem was a Chilean government decision to cancel a formal dinner scheduled for Sunday night, causing about 200 guests to be uninvited. The decision reflected unhappiness on the part of the Chileans at a Secret Service requirement that the invitees - including distinguished figures in their government and from the business community - pass through metal detectors.
At a joint news conference on Sunday evening, Bush and Lagos, the Chilean president, made no mention of the confrontation during which Bush physically pulled the Secret Service agent into the dining room, as the shocked Chilean security agents stood aside. Nor was reference made to the cancelled dinner.
But it would be idle to assume the incident did not leave some kind of mark.
"What the visit did, unfortunately, was to shove the imperial presidency down the throat of Latin America," said Riordan Roett, a Latin American specialist at Johns Hopkins University. "The dinner cancellation, the security screening, the scuffling - all of that communicated a very bad impression of the president and the White House. ... And of course it all provided grist for the media mill."