MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina – It’s been a tough sell for President Bush.

He had come to the fourth Summit of the Americas eager to round up more support for the stalled U.S.-backed proposal for a sweeping Free Trade Area of the Americas that would cut trade barriers from Canada on the north to the tip of Chile on the south.

But the talks among the summit leaders on how and when to restart the trade talks went into overtime Saturday, and Bush left during an afternoon break to head to his next stop in Brazil.

The summit ended Saturday afternoon with no agreement. Argentine Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa said the summit’s declaration would state two opposing views: one favoring the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas and another saying discussions should wait until after World Trade Organization talks in December.

The Bush administration has been pressing for a date certain to jump-start the negotiations but could not reach a consensus among the 34 summit leaders.

Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is traveling with him on his five-day swing through Central and South America, had “made their arguments” before the other leaders and kept to their schedule to leave, said a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity.

Talks about such a trade zone, larger than the sprawling European Union, have now stretched over 11 years; President Bill Clinton formally launched the initiative at the first Summit of the Americas in 1994 in Miami.

The streets of the Atlantic Coast resort city were quiet Saturday. Several hundred angry anti-American protesters had roamed through a small downtown area Friday, throwing rocks, setting fires and looting some shops.

The vast security net protecting the summit leaders remained tight Saturday, as the leaders convened in their last business sessions.

Bush flew on to Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, for an overnight visit. He’ll confer Sunday with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is leery of key aspects of the trade proposal.

A handful of other big countries also question it, including Venezuela, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who regularly derides Bush for the invasion of Iraq, among other things, has ridiculed the trade initiative as imperialistic, favoring big business over the poor.

Chavez pronounced it dead before the summit even began.

The summit host, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, is no fan, either. In an unusually blunt address to Bush and the other leaders at the start of their summit, Kirchner charged that U.S. foreign policy in the region had done little but foster poverty and instability in some countries.

Earlier, he had appeared with Bush at what was billed by the White House as a joint press availability, but there were no questions. The White House, citing Kirchner’s reluctance, then scrambled to arrange an impromptu news conference with Bush.

“It was a good, honest discussion,” Bush told reporters, signaling his talk with Kirchner may not have gone all that well.

Mexican President Vicente Fox, a staunch supporter of free trade, has suggested the 29 countries supporting the free-trade area might band together and push ahead.

“For Mexico, the FTAA means being able to go forward toward development in the fight against poverty, in job creation and economic growth,” he told Clarin, the leading Argentine newspaper.

“We say it because we have lived it,” he said in the interview, distributed by the White House.

He was not nearly as upbeat, however, on the nettlesome issue of migration from Mexico to the United States.

Bush has proposed a temporary guest worker program that could eventually legalize several million undocumented immigrants. But Congress, intent on toughening border security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks four years ago, has not moved much on the immigration issue.

“There are difficulties but that’s what leaders are for – to tackle them and solve them,” said Fox, whose six-year term is up at the end of next year.

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Reminded during the Clarin interview that he was not even meeting with Bush on the summit sidelines, Fox said bluntly: “He wasn’t interested, and I wasn’t either.”

“Why would we have a meeting just to have one?” Fox asked. “When we have important issues before us, we deal with them. The relationship with the U.S. is a daily one.”

Before leaving Washington Thursday, Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, had said simply there was “limited time” for Bush to meet privately with other summit leaders, and he had chosen to forgo Fox for others.



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PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): BUSH-AMERICAS

AP-NY-11-05-05 2037EST


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