Asia Pacific leaders sound upbeat note on crisis

November 24, 2008 12:00 am

, LIMA,November 24 – Asia-Pacific leaders making up half the global economy voiced hope Sunday that the world’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression would be over within 18 months.

The gathering in Peru marked the farewell to international summits for US President George W. Bush, who won hope for one last-minute breakthrough as new talks were scheduled on ending North Korea’s nuclear program.

The leaders of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum vowed in a joint declaration to "act quickly and decisively" against the global economic crisis, although they offered no specific new action.

In an unusual move, a separate statement on the global economy released Saturday was modified in the middle of the night to voice more optimism.

"We are convinced that we can overcome this crisis in a period of 18 months," said the added language.

Delegates said that the stronger wording came at the urging of Peruvian President Alan Garcia, the host of the summit.

"We have agreed on this firm statement that will break the vicious circle of anxiety and uncertainty," Garcia said. "We are going to fight this crisis to the bitter end."

He spoke in front of leaders gathered next to him in shapeless brown ponchos, fulfilling an APEC tradition of wearing local outfits for the final group picture.

Some leaders, particularly Medvedev, had to be convinced not to take off the wool mountain cloaks as they stood to listen to Garcia’s address.

Not all APEC leaders were convinced either that the crisis would be over by mid-2010.

"I think it would be premature to speculate on that kind of timeline," Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon said that the timeframe was only an estimate.

"Dates that get mentioned in statements like this reflect the estimates worked out by different representatives of each government," he said.

Dan Price, Bush’s adviser for the summit, said that Garcia had added the 18-month timeframe, reflecting the view of some in the region.

"President Bush believes that the actions we are taking now will begin to produce results in the much nearer term, in the coming months," Price told reporters on Air Force One as it left Peru.

Bush used his final scheduled foreign trip before handing office to president-elect Barack Obama to make an impassioned defense of free trade and to hold farewell summits with other top leaders.

He spoke with leaders of China, Japan and South Korea about pushing forward a slow-moving denuclearization pact with North Korea — one area where Bush has still held out hope of a last-minute diplomatic triumph.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, flying back from Lima with Bush, told reporters that a new round of talks among the six nations in the disarmament deal would take place on December 8 in China.

She played down hopes for progress on North Korea by the time Bush leaves office, saying that the communist state spent more than 30 years developing a nuclear program.

"I think it might take more than a couple to unravel it," Rice said.

Bush once branded North Korea as part of an "axis of evil" but his administration spearheaded the six-way disarmament-for-aid deal in what was widely seen as an attempt for a signature foreign policy success.

Bush enjoyed praise from Chinese President Hu Jintao and Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, but he had a more tense final exchange with Russia’s Medvedev.

Relations have sharply deteriorated between Russia and the United States over Moscow’s August war with Georgia and US plans to build a missile defense shield in former Soviet bloc nations Poland and the Czech Republic.

Russia said that Bush and Rice had not done anything to ease Moscow’s concerns on the missile shield, which Bush says is aimed at nations such as Iran but the Kremlin sees as an affront.

Medvedev, however, voiced hope for Obama, saying the president-elect did not have a "once and for all prepared template" on the issue.

"It means dialogue is possible," Medvedev said. "A change of position if possible."


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