Politics, pageantry blend for Bush at Olympics - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

Politics, pageantry blend for Bush at Olympics

BEIJING - President Bush, the first U.S. president to attend an Olympics abroad, blended political messages for China and Russia with high fives and hugs for American athletes Friday.

Before settling in for the opening festivities, Bush jabbed at China's human rights record and spoke with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin about fighting in the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia.

Russia sent tanks in after Georgian troops began a military offensive Friday to retake control. Bush and Putin discussed the situation at a luncheon for world leaders hosted by Chinese President Hu Jintao, said Gordon Johndroe, a Bush spokesman, without giving details.

The U.S. urged an immediate cease-fire and sent an envoy to the region. Bush received regular updates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked to the parties involved.

"I want to reiterate on his behalf that the United States supports Georgia's territorial integrity. We urge all parties - Georgians, South Ossetians and Russians - to de-escalate the tension and avoid conflict," White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

Earlier Friday, Bush used the dedication of the U.S. Embassy to prod China to lessen repression and "let people say what they think." It was a repeat of the message the Chinese government rebuffed even before he arrived in Beijing.

For the most part, Bush kept his eye on the games, the primary reason for his visit.

"It's gotta be really exciting, thinking about marching in that stadium and representing our country," Bush told cheering U.S. athletes at the Olympic fencing center before the opening ceremonies.

"We appreciate all the hard work you've put in to get to this spot," said Bush, accompanied by wife Laura and his father, the former president who is the U.S. team's honorary captain.

"We want you to win as many golds as you possibly can. Go forth, give it all you got!"

The president posed for photos with the athletes, wearing blue blazers, white slacks and white caps.

As the nearly 600-strong U.S. team - second in size only to China's - paraded into National Stadium, Bush and the first lady stood and waved tiny U.S. flags. The U.S. athletes followed Syria onto the track, where they walked over pads doused in paint, leaving multicolored streaks of footprints. They enthusiastically waved at the Bushes.

Communist China, which tolerates only government-approved religions, rounded up dissidents ahead of the Olympics and imposed Internet restrictions on journalists that some say amount to censorship. All that is contrary to Beijing's commitments when it won hosting rights for the games.

"We strongly believe societies which allow the free expression of ideas tend to be the most prosperous and the most peaceful," Bush said at the American diplomatic complex, built at a cost of $434 million.

The past week has seen blunt language from both sides. China clearly was unhappy that its record of repression was aired repeatedly even as the country sought to revel in its long-anticipated debut on the world's biggest sporting stage. U.S. officials dismissed any suggestion of a widening rift.

"We've had these back-and-forths with China for years," Perino said.

Beijing defends its human rights record and says Bush should not meddle in China's internal affairs.

But Bush also took care during the embassy ribbon-cutting to praise China's contributions to society and embrace its relationship with the United States.

"Candor is most effective where nations have built a relationship of respect and trust," Bush said. "I've worked hard to build that respect and trust. I appreciate the Chinese leadership that have worked hard to build that respect and trust."

The second largest U.S. Embassy in the world, only after the heavily fortified compound in Baghdad, is symbolic of China's importance to the United States.

"It reflects the solid foundation underpinning our relations," Bush said. "It is a commitment to strengthen that foundation for years to come."

The embassy ceremony was full of emotional resonance. Among those attending were the elder Bush and Henry Kissinger, secretary of state during the Nixon presidency, when the U.S. began a relationship with China.

It was the senior Bush, as chief of the U.S. liaison office during a critical period when the United States was renewing ties with China, who first brought his son to China in 1975. The current president fondly recalls biking around Beijing when that was the predominant form of transport.

The president's public schedule over the next three days is thin. There are large gaps for Bush to pick sporting events to watch with the numerous family members who have accompanied him.

On Saturday, he meets with Olympic sponsors and watches women's basketball. On Sunday, he will attend a government-approved Protestant church and then speak to reporters about religious freedom, mirroring his practice during a 2005 trip to China. He then plans to take in some men's and women's Olympic swimming.

Business takes over briefly Sunday afternoon, with talks with Hu as well as China's vice president and premier. But then it's back to sports: the much-anticipated U.S.-China basketball game Sunday night and a practice baseball game between the U.S. and China on Monday. He returns to Washington Monday night.

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