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Bush Leaves Summit Without Trade Agreement

JACKI LYDEN, host:

Leaders from across the Americas met into the evening as they tried to wrap up their summit in Argentina. President Bush has gone on to his next stop, Brazil. Yesterday the meeting was marred by violent anti-Bush protests in the streets of Mar del Plata. NPR's White House correspondent David Greene has been traveling with President Bush and joins me now.

David, the president wanted to make a new free-trade accord the centerpiece of the summit. Did the leaders make progress on that?

DAVID GREENE reporting:

Well, it's not clear, Jacki. The summit went into overtime in the late afternoon, and top leaders from the 34 countries were, according to a senior Bush administration official, haggling over language on the free-trade area that Mr. Bush wants to create. According to that official, there are 29 countries who support the US position which is that they want to resume talks on creating a free-trade zone for the Hemisphere, which means there are five countries who are against it. And Mr. Bush actually left the summit along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He left about on time to head for Brazil. The senior official said that Mr. Bush and Secretary Rice made their points and then headed off and left behind assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon to carry the flag for the United States.

LYDEN: Mr. Bush has to meet now in Brazil with President "Lula." Will they continue talks on trade there, and how is Brazil feeling about the agreement?

GREENE: Well, we haven't gotten a firm layout yet of the agenda, but this is the big topic. It would be the elephant in the room if they didn't talk about it. It's sure to come up, and the big reason is that Brazil perhaps had been the most important opponent of the deal. Brazil has the largest economy in Latin America, and it would be tough to have a very significant and successful free-trade zone in this Hemisphere without Brazil fully engaged. And they have been the country that has been of most concern to the United States as they've not wanted to resume talks yet.

LYDEN: Before the summit opened, there was a lot of attention on Venezuela and its populist president, Hugo Chavez. There were demonstrations in the streets and he addressed the rally. How big a role did he play?

GREENE: Well, President Bush came here, according to the White House, hoping to not let Hugo Chavez become the focus of the summit. Now if you look outside the summit, he became a central focus. He held a huge rally at a stadium here in town right off the summit site. He drew thousands and thousands of anti-Bush protesters and rallied them before he went in to join Mr. Bush inside the summit. Inside, we don't know what kind of influence he had. What we do know is that Venezuela and Hugo Chavez represent the position that is against the United States. They do not want the free-trade pact, and Hugo Chavez believes that free trade and expanding trade is actually bad for the poor of Latin America. He disagrees vehemently with Mr. Bush.

LYDEN: OK. Well, NPR's David Greene, traveling with President Bush in Latin America, thanks very much.

GREENE: Pleasure, Jacki. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jacki Lyden
Longtime listeners recognize Jacki Lyden's voice from her frequent work as a substitute host on NPR. As a journalist who has been with NPR since 1979, Lyden regards herself first and foremost as a storyteller and looks for the distinctive human voice in a huge range of national and international stories.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.