‘Axis of Evil’ Is Uninvited Guest at APEC

SANTIAGO – North Korea, Iran, and Iraq, the countries that U.S. President George W. Bush labeled the "axis of evil" in early 2002, are the main unofficial issues being discussed at the 12th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, which opened Saturday in the Chilean capital.

Bush arrived in Santiago late Friday amidst a massive security presence, and met separately with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to discuss the question of North Korea’s nuclear program.

Sources close to the U.S. leader said he also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about North Korea’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The leaders of China, Japan, Russia, and the United States are the most prominent figures attending the gathering, which ends Sunday.

APEC, created in 1989, also comprises Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The 21 member economies represent 55 percent of world trade, 57 percent of global GDP, and 40 percent of the world’s population.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council, and the Pacific Islands Forum are official observers in APEC.

Aside from the trade issues on the agenda, the summit is serving as a framework for several of the world’s most powerful leaders to catch up on key political questions.

The United States, China, and Russia are three of the five permanent members on the United Nations Security Council, and the latter two both opposed the March 2003 U.S.-British invasion of Iraq.

Putin announced Friday that he would tell Bush that he supported "holding a wide international conference, with participation of all involved parties, especially Iraq," to help Iraqis decide the future of their country.

In a private meeting with Chilean parliamentary leaders, the Russian president said a world order run by a single superpower – an obvious allusion to the United States – was simply inconceivable.

That leads to the cemetery, Putin reportedly told the legislators, although the president of the Chilean Senate, Hernán Larraín, said the Russian leader had referred to the crisis in Iraq "in an elegant and diplomatic manner."

The question of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions was brought up by Chilean President Ricardo Lagos in a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Roh Moo-hyun, who will host next year’s APEC summit.

U.S. diplomatic sources told IPS Saturday that the meetings on the issue between leaders at the summit were aimed at generating international pressure for North Korean President Kim Jong Il to agree to negotiations.

Bush expressed to the presidents of China and Russia his concern over Iran’s nuclear program, despite the fact that according to Tehran the goal is to produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, the sources added.

The U.S. government hopes the European Union will be able to monitor Iran’s nuclear program and dissuade the government of that country from pursuing any possible plans to develop nuclear weapons, they said.

The United States has been the driving force at the APEC summit behind initiatives aimed at the coordination of measures to fight international terrorism, which would include strict controls on materials that could be used to manufacture atomic bombs.

Chile is the first country that Bush has visited since he was reelected on Nov. 2.

On Friday, between 25,000 and 40,000 demonstrators came out to protest Bush’s visit, in the march that kicked off the first Chilean Social Forum.

Disturbances that occurred in the march and in other protests in Santiago, leading to the arrest of 138 demonstrators, were blamed by Deputy Minister of the Interior Jorge Correa on "vandals."

Protests against Bush’s presence and the APEC summit were held late Friday in poor neighborhoods on the outskirts of Santiago, where flaming roadblocks were thrown up, and clashes occurred with the Carabineros militarized police. Two police officers and a gas station employee were shot and injured in the unrest.

(Inter Press Service)