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Bush opens week-long Asia trip in Japan


KYOTO, (Japan), Nov 15 (AFP): US President George W. Bush arrived in Japan Tuesday to start a week-long trip to Asia, seeking progress on the North Korean nuclear crisis and looking to press China for political and economic reforms.
Bush, who also hoped to promote free trade and bolster cooperation in the global fight against deadly bird flu, arrived just before 6:00 pm (0900 GMT) in the western Japanese city of Osaka en route to nearby Kyoto.
On Wednesday, the US president was to tour Japan's most-visited Buddhist temple before holding talks with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and giving what aides described as the keynote speech of his trip to the region.
Bush was to assert the need for US involvement in Asia, praise the spread of democratic values, and say that China must follow looser controls on its economy with broader political and religious freedom for its people, they said.
Later, he was to travel to South Korea and attend an Asia-Pacific summit there, make an official visit to China and become the first sitting US president to travel to Mongolia before heading back to Washington.
At home, he faced his worst poll numbers ever, amid anger over the unpopular war in Iraq, and a CIA leak investigation that led to the indictment and resignation of a senior aide and is still swirling around his White House.
Aides downplayed expectations for the trip, virtually ruling out the possibility of breakthroughs on North Korea, China's massive trade surplus with the United States or efforts to restart global free trade talks.
"This is not a trip where the president has to come with a deliverable or initiative," White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley said aboard Air Force One.
In Japan, Bush was to visit Kinkakuji, or Temple of the Golden Pavilion, before talks with Koizumi, a close ally and friend who strongly backed Washington on the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
It was to be their first meeting since the prime minister won a landslide election victory in September on an economic reform platform, and US officials said Bush would press Koizumi to follow through on pro-growth measures.
The two leaders were also expected to discuss planned reductions in US troop levels on Okinawa and Japan's moves to reopen its markets to US beef two years after it imposed a ban because of fears about mad cow disease.
"It's not going to get worked out while we're there. But we hope in a reasonable time afterwards to see this issue worked through," said Hadley.
Bush and Koizumi were expected to discuss the latest stalemate to hit six-country talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear program. Washington, Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing and Moscow are partners in negotiations with Pyongyang.
US officials said he would make a push for reviving difficult global free trade talks, the so-called Doha round of World Trade Organization negotiations that have stalled in large part on a dispute over agricultural subsidies.
Bush was also to have bilateral meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
In China, Bush planned to press President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao to allow more religious freedom, protect intellectual property rights and let free markets decide the value of China's currency.
The United States has been the loudest in accusing China of destabilising the global economy by keeping its exchange rate too rigid, resulting in an undervalued yuan and an enormous boost for Chinese exports.
In South Korea and China, Bush hoped to bolster international efforts to prevent a pandemic unleashed by a mutation of the bird flu virus, which has claimed more than 60 lives in Asia since 2003.
In Mongolia, Bush was expected to offer words of support for democracy and market reforms and thank his hosts for deploying troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.