WASHINGTON—President Bush, laboring to shore up an international coalition against terrorism that is showing signs of strain, departs Wednesday for a meeting with Asian leaders critical to his ongoing campaign.
At the 21-nation Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in China, Bush will meet with key Muslim leaders, who in recent days have criticized the U.S.-led bombings in Afghanistan. Among them will be Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who on Sunday questioned America's pursuit of alleged terror mastermind Osama bin Laden, saying, "Violence should not always be responded to with violence."
Bush also will meet with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has called on the U.S. to halt its air war against Afghanistan's Islamic Taliban regime.
Many Muslim leaders are under intense internal political pressure to oppose the U.S.-led attacks on Afghanistan. But Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, said Monday that the administration considers the support of those Muslim nations critical.
"It's important to enlist Muslim leaders, Rice said, not just in the Middle East but from around the world to understand that this is clearly not a war of religion, it's not a war with the Muslim world.
"These leaders understand the threat of terrorism perhaps even better than we Americans do," she said.
In a separate interview with the Arab-language Al Jazeera cable television news network, which broadcasts in parts of Asia and the Middle East, Rice rebutted suggestions that the U.S. has won the support of Arab government leaders but not their Muslim citizens.
Rice also countered bin Laden's message that Muslims around the world should take up the fight against America, saying, "We cannot believe that Islam would countenance the kind of destruction of innocents that we saw on Sept. 11. Many Muslims in the United States lost their lives in those bombings."
During the summit, Bush will meet for the first time with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who has promised to share intelligence information with the U.S. and who squared off six months ago with Bush over the downing of a U.S. surveillance plane.
The trip to China had been scheduled long before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but it has since been scaled back. Cut from Bush's original 10-day itinerary were trips to Beijing, South Korea and Japan. The trip will take about five days.
The original purpose of the summit, first organized in 1989 by Bush's father, former President George Bush, was for leaders in the Pacific Rim region to informally discuss economic and trade issues.
While State Department officials said they expect the summit to produce a statement against terrorism following its weekend meeting, Rice said Bush also wants to ensure that time is allowed for the traditional discussions about the global economy.
"The president is devoted to that agenda," Rice said. "He really feels very strongly that that's an agenda that's got to keep going because, ultimately, stability and the kind of, if you will, quarantine against [terrorism] will come from a stronger, more prosperous world."
Bush also paid homage to Washington's government workers, a group he roundly criticized during last year's campaign.
In an appearance Monday before several thousand members of the senior executive service, Bush praised federal workers as heroes who share "an outstanding work ethic, commitment to public service and pride in a job well done."
The president awarded the Presidential Rank Award to 65 career government executives. Among them was Bryan Jack, a budget analyst at the Pentagon, who was aboard American Airlines Flight 77 when terrorists hijacked it from Dulles International Airport and crashed it into the Pentagon on Sept. 11.