Bush praises S’pore for firm stance against extremists

US leader describes Republic as a ‘very strong ally’ after meeting SM Goh.

US PRESIDENT George W. Bush has said that he appreciates Singapore’s strong stance against extremism.

Describing Singapore as “a very strong ally” in the war against terror, he told reporters at the White House after meeting Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Wednesday: “I appreciate your firm stance against extremists and radicals who use the tactics of murder and intimidation to advance their ideologies.”

SM Goh is here on a four-day visit. He last met Mr Bush in June 2006.

His press secretary said that SM Goh met the US leader to renew personal ties and reaffirm close relations between the two countries.

The leaders spoke on a range of topics in the region, which prompted Mr Bush to say: “Every time I meet with you I come away with a better understanding of a lot of issues, particularly in your part of your world…You’ve got good knowledge and you’ve had a lot of experience, and you’re kind to share it with me.”

The issue of Myanmar, which holds a referendum on an army- drafted Constitution on May 10, was one of the key topics raised during the 40-minute meeting in the Oval Room.

Mr Bush made clear that he was disappointed with the progress thus far in Myanmar, which last September saw the military crush the biggest anti-government march in nearly two decades.

He urged the junta to open up and respond to calls for democracy. SM Goh noted that “while the army is the problem, the army has to be part of the solution”.

“Without the army playing a part in solving problems in Myanmar, there will be no solution,” he said.

Tibet, which saw a heavy Chinese crackdown on protesting monks last month, was also discussed. Both leaders agreed that Beijing had to start a dialogue with representatives of the Dalai Lama to contain the problem.

SM Goh said that it might even be better for Chinese leaders to talk directly to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

They also touched on other issues of global importance.

Mr Bush briefed the Senior Minister on the ongoing war in Iraq, and concerns over Iran, which SM Goh said was still “a very big problem not just for the United States but for the region and for the world”.

On trade, the American President highlighted the success of the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA). “Our FTA with Singapore was a very positive accomplishment for our two countries,” he said. Since the agreement took effect in 2004, US exports to Singapore have jumped 123 per cent.

SM Goh emphasised the importance of having a free trade regime in the world. He also said that the Doha Round, while progressing too slowly, should be encouraged to move forward.

The Senior Minister is here to attend the fifth meeting of the Commission on Growth and Development, a body sponsored by the World Bank and chaired by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Mike Spence.

Besides meeting Mr Bush, he also called on Vice-President Dick Cheney at the White House.

SM Goh also received a call from former US president Bill Clinton on Wednesday afternoon. “They had a friendly telephone conversation, during which they talked about the elections in the US,” said SM Goh’s press secretary.

And on Tuesday, the Senior Minister met World Bank President Robert Zoellick. SM Goh returns to Singapore tomorrow.

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