MM to meet President Bush on US visit

Mr Lee starts two-week tour today to strengthen personal and bilateral ties.

MINISTER Mentor Lee Kuan Yew arrives in the United States today for a two-week working visit aimed at renewing ties with the American leadership.

He will meet President George W. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top officials, investors and potential investors in Singapore.

MM Lee will also receive an award from the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in New York, the first stop of his trip that will also take him to Washington, Dallas and Las Vegas.

His trip to New York will involve meetings with eminent players in the world’s financial capital. Mr Timothy Geithner, the president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, will host him for lunch together with several Wall Street titans.

Washington will also be packed with a slew of high-level meetings with Mr Bush and senior administration officials.

Singapore enjoys good relations with the US – ties that are founded on defence and economic cooperation. In recent years, they have broadened to include areas such as information technology, health and education.

The US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement is a key area of engagement. In July last year, the two states also concluded a strategic framework pact that further strengthened defence and security links.

Underlying such cooperation is the close ties between leaders of both countries. Indeed, one primary objective for the Minister Mentor – who last visited the US in 2002 – is to renew links with the American leadership.

In his memoirs, From Third World To First, The Singapore Story: 1965-2000, he revealed that he had established a relationship with successive US administrations that began with president Lyndon Johnson in 1967.

“I was fortunate in getting on with most of the US presidents and their principal aides, especially their secretaries of state,” he wrote. “Several have kept up our friendship even after they left office.”

MM Lee’s visit will build on efforts by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who has been making trips to Washington every 15 to 18 months, to develop closer ties with the US.

The United States has been a crucial player in the Asia-Pacific since World War II. As a superpower, it will continue to be central to the strategic landscape.

It is important for Singapore to continually nurture its ties with the US in order to know Washington’s concerns and its stance on issues.

At the same time, US leaders can also be apprised of regional developments from an Asian perspective by their Singapore counterparts.

This has not been lost on American policymakers.

One former senior Bush aide who was a pointman for Asia noted that, for a country of its size, Singapore offered “valuable strategic thinking and advice on regional issues” that ranged from China’s rise to countering Islamic radicalism. He told The Straits Times: “Singapore can punch far above its weight in international affairs. We take the views of MM and other Singapore leaders seriously because they give us a nuanced reading of developments in Asia.”

Several top US officials have visited Singapore over the past year, including Mr Rumsfeld, Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and US Trade Representative Susan Schwab.

Professor Chan Heng Chee, Singapore’s Ambassador to the US, said: “We will work hard to maintain good ties with the US. This involves having regular substantive exchanges.”

Besides meeting the political elite in the capital, MM Lee will travel to Dallas and Las Vegas. In Dallas he will deliver the Tate Lecture at the Southern Methodist University, the alma mater of President Bush’s wife Laura.

He will also have meetings with senior members of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and captains of industries.

In Las Vegas, he will tour the Las Vegas Strip, including the Sands Expo, The Venetian and Caesar’s Palace.

Accompanying MM Lee on this trip will be Mrs Lee, two elected parliamentary members – Ms Grace Fu Hai Yien and Mr Masagos Zulkifli – and senior government officials.

“Singapore can punch far above its weight in international affairs. We take the views of MM and other Singapore leaders seriously because they give us a nuanced reading of developments in Asia.”

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