(CNSNews.com) - President Bush began talks with 20 other leaders from around the Pacific Rim Friday. Their packed agenda includes liberalizing global trade, bird flu, counter-terror cooperation and North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
Trade is expected to dominate the two-day meeting in South Korea's second-largest city, Busan, given concerns about hurdles to progress ahead of World Trade Organization talks scheduled next month in Hong Kong.
Previous Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summits have sought to push ahead the so-called Doha round of free trade talks.
APEC is a forum meant to focus primarily on economic issues, but since 9/11 terrorism has featured prominently at its annual gatherings. A number of APEC members, including those in Southeast Asia, are battling terrorism and Islamic extremism at home.
The draft of a document due to be signed by the leaders reportedly says: "Terrorism remains as a menacing threat to our world and we condemned terrorist acts that not only took thousands of lives but have also been aiming to destabilize the security of the region."
They will also discuss ways to tackle the H5N1 bird flu virus which since emerging has affected six APEC members - China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand Indonesia and Russia.
The virus has spread westward as far as Europe, amid fears that it could mutate and trigger a human flu pandemic.
North Korea is also up for discussion, as all five nations involved in talks with Pyongyang aimed at resolving a three-year standoff over nuclear weapons are members of APEC.
Five rounds of the six-party talks have been held in Beijing - the most recent last week - but the issue remains unresolved. Among the outstanding points, North Korea wants agreement on retaining civilian nuclear reactors ahead of shutting down its weapons programs; the U.S. and other parties want the military nuclear programs verifiably dismantled first.
In one of several bilateral meetings ahead of the summit, Bush discussed North Korea with South Korean leader and summit host President Roh Moo-hyun.
The two governments have not always seen eye-to-eye on how to deal with the Stalinist regime - Roh pursues a policy of political and economic engagement and is reluctant to press the North on human rights abuses - any differences were downplayed.
Roh said he and the U.S. president "agreed on the fundamental issues," including the view that a nuclear-armed North Korea could not be tolerated.
The two also agreed to set up a body to discuss replacing the temporary armistice which ended the Korean war in 1953 and is still in force, with a permanent peace treaty.
In other meetings on the sidelines of the APEC summit, Bush was to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Balbina Hwang, a policy analyst for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation, said this week the APEC summit provides an opportunity for the U.S. both to participate and play a leading role in the region.
"One of the most important leadership roles Washington can play is to strengthen the ties between America's two vital allies, Korea and Japan," she said.
Relations between the two are chilly - as are relations between Japan and China - over a range of issues, including lingering sensitivities over Japan's historical aggression in the region
Hwang said Japan and South Korea were today two of the most modern and democratic countries in Asia and the U.S. "should work closely with these two allies to advance their relationship to meet modern challenges."
APEC's members account for 60 percent of the world's GDP and more than one-third of the world's population.
They are known as "economies" because they include Chinese-ruled Hong Kong as well as Taiwan, which China claims.
The 21 are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.
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