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War allies win praise, favors from president

By Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 7, 2003

WASHINGTON - President Bush signed a free-trade agreement Tuesday with Singapore, his first since Congress granted him trade promotion authority last summer and the largest since the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The agreement that was signed, and one that wasn't, are part of a Bush administration policy that has countries around the world reaping the benefits of - or paying the price for - their stand on the war with Iraq. The door to the Oval Office is wide open for foreign leaders who backed Bush, but war critics are finding themselves left out.

Tuesday, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong of Singapore joined the president for a signing ceremony at the White House in a visible display of what Frank Lavin, the U.S. ambassador to Singapore, said was the administration's post-Iraq war policy of "working with friends."

Unspoken was the second part of the policy: to punish nations that did not support the United States in the war.

Chile had expected to be the first country to sign such an agreement after completing negotiations in December, a full month before Singapore completed its pact. But by refusing to support the United States at the U.N. Security Council where it is a member, Chile lost that honor, senior administration officials said.

"You know, people are disappointed," said Robert Zoellick, the U.S. trade representative. "I'm disappointed. We worked very closely with our Chilean partners. We hoped for their support in a time that we felt was very important."

At the ceremony, the president did offer hope, promising, "We're finalizing our pact with Chile."

In several statements regarding trade pacts, administration officials made it clear there was nothing subtle about the policy.

When the president announced the trade agreement signing ceremony from Camp Lejeune, N.C., he praised Singapore, not for its economic strength and global trading strategy but for being "a strong partner in the war on terrorism and a member of the coalition on Iraq."

At the ceremony, Bush praised Goh for "working together to meet the threats of a new era" and for offering to send police and health workers to aid in rebuilding Iraq.

The agreement is subject to approval by the Senate, although the president's trade promotion authority means Congress can only approve or reject it - not alter it.

Although a small city-state, Singapore is the 12th-largest trading partner of the United States, with trade volume of $33.4-billion last year.

Described as the "gold standard" for free trade agreements, the pact signed Tuesday guarantees that all American exports to Singapore will enjoy zero tariffs immediately. U.S. tariffs on imports from Singapore will largely disappear, too, with the last tariffs phased out within eight years.

But good news for Singapore is bad news for Chile.

Ambassador Andres Bianchi of Chile said that officially the delay resulted from problems translating the agreement into Spanish, and in the meanwhile he is knocking on the doors of members of Congress and visiting important districts around the country.

But it is the president and his administration who need to be convinced, said Peter Hakim, president of Inter-American Dialogue, a policy study group in Washington. He said Chile failed to understand the administration's anger that allies such as Chile would fail to support a war the United States considered crucial to national security.

The rewards and punishments extend to the White House guest list. This week it is a roll call of war allies.

Today, Bush will welcome Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar to the Oval Office. Thursday, he meets with the foreign ministers from Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia - allies all. He also will make time for Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar, which hosted the U.S. military command during the war, and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who also endorsed the war.

War opponents shouldn't expect invitations any time soon.

Bush scrubbed a planned state visit by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien on Monday, citing a busy schedule; Chretien opposed the war. Instead, Bush spent the weekend at his Texas ranch with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a war backer, and devoted Monday to touting his tax cuts in Little Rock, Ark.

Mexican President Vicente Fox is also on the outs. Bush's annual Cinco de Mayo message Monday did not mention U.S. ties to Mexico, but praised "the many Mexican-Americans serving in our armed forces who are working to bring freedom and justice to oppressed people."

In contrast, last year's statement hailed the "strong, vibrant relationship" between the two countries.

- Information from the New York Times and Knight Ridder Newspapers was used in this report.

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