Bush to end Asia trip in Mongolia
By Steve Holland
BEIJING (Reuters) – George W. Bush will on Monday become
the first U.S. president to visit Mongolia, the last stop of a
week-long Asia tour that gave him little respite from questions
about the Iraq war.
It was Mongolia’s support for the war that provided the
greatest incentive for Bush to become what aides described as
the first White House visitor to the country since Vice
President Henry Wallace in 1944.
Mongolia, which produced the warrior Genghis Khan, has
deployed about 120 soldiers to Iraq, and Bush was expected to
thank Mongolian President Nambariin Enkhbayar for his support
in a speech.
He will also hail its transition from a totalitarian state
to one that has embraced democracy, albeit one that struggles
with corruption, a subject that might come up in his talks.
Mongolia, sandwiched between military giants China and
Russia, has reached out to the United States, its so-called
“third neighbor” — a description U.S. officials like.
In an inner courtyard at Ulan Bator’s government house,
Bush will be received in a large ceremonial felt dwelling that
is representative of the sparsely populated country’s nomadic
mode of life.
Bush wanted to “thank them for what they’re doing in Iraq
… and to give a boost to a country that’s really moving in
the right direction, and show that even a country that’s far
away or remote — if it’s making the right choices the U.S. is
going to stay with them,” said a senior Bush administration
The four-hour visit by Bush and first lady Laura Bush caps
a trip that included stops in Japan, South Korea and China,
visits in which Bush pushed for trade concessions but came away
with little tangible progress beyond leaders’ promises to keep
working on the issues.
Aides said they had not expected breakthroughs and hoped
the president’s jawboning would lead to action down the road.
Bush did get a full airing of his views in China, urging
Chinese President Hu Jintao in the Great Hall of the People to
work to cut his country’s soaring trade surplus with Washington
and allow greater religious and political freedoms in China.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice considered it
noteworthy that Hu mentioned democracy and human rights in his
prepared remarks, which she called evidence that “the
president’s message is getting through.”
Iraq was never far from his mind, however, with Democrats
accusing him and others in his administration of manipulating
intelligence to justify the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
On Saturday after talks with Chinese leaders, Bush all but
apologized to a hawkish Democrat, Pennsylvania Rep. John
Murtha, who the White House had called a liberal like American
moviemaker Michael Moore for demanding an immediate U.S.
pullout from Iraq.
“Congressman Murtha is a fine man, a good man who served
our country with honor and distinction as a Marine in Vietnam
and as a U.S. congressman,” said Bush, who nonetheless rejected
Murtha’s position as one that would carry terrible
After a day of meeting Chinese leaders and a mountain bike
ride with Chinese Olympic athletes, fatigue and jet lag
appeared to be getting the best of the president.
Ignoring an attempted follow-up question by a reporter,
Bush headed to a set of double doors, only to find they were
“I was trying to escape. It didn’t work,” he joked, before
an aide came to his rescue.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan)