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Bush may skip opening ceremonies of Olympics

April 9, 2008

April 8, 2008

WASHINGTON (CNN) — For the first time, White House spokeswoman Dana
Perino Tuesday left the door open to President Bush skipping the opening
ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing to protest China's crackdown in
Tibet and human rights record.

Asked by CNN at an on-camera briefing if Bush will specifically attend
the opening ceremonies in Beijing, Perino would not be definitive. "We
haven't provided any schedules on the president's trip," she said.

Pressed on whether Bush's decision to attend the Olympics is
"irreversible" or could be affected by developments, Perino hedged. "Any
time the president — the president can always make a change," she said.
"But the President has been clear that this is a sporting event for the
athletes and that pressuring China before, during and after the Olympics
is the best way for us to try to help people across the board in China,
not just Tibetans."

What the president has not been clear on is whether or not he will
attend the opening ceremonies, which are typically a major showcase for
the host country. Bush has only said he will attend the Olympics in
general, stressing he's a sports fan who wants to support U.S. athletes
at the games.

But Bush is under heavy pressure from Democrats like Speaker Nancy
Pelosi to boycott the opening ceremonies as a protest against the
Chinese government's handling of Tibet among other issues, a move
endorsed by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Monday.
Pelosi has suggested skipping the opening ceremonies would be better
than a full-scale U.S. boycott of the entire Olympics.

"I think boycotting the opening ceremony, which really gives respect to
the Chinese government, is something that should be kept on the table,"
Pelosi told ABC News earlier this month. "I think the president might
want to rethink this later, depending on what other heads of state do."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a key Bush ally, has suggested she will
boycott the opening ceremonies. French President Nicolas Sarkozy,
another Bush ally, has also left the door open to such a protest.

Some news organizations have incorrectly assumed Bush will attend the
opening ceremonies, but the President has never been specific about
which parts of the Olympics he will attend or not attend, leaving him
some wiggle room when the games get closer.

Back in September after a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao at
the APEC Summit in Australia, Bush first disclosed he would attend the
Olympics. Bush spoke very generally by saying the Chinese president had
"extended an invitation to me and Laura and our family to come to the
Olympics" during their summit meeting.

"And of course, I was anxious to accept," Bush said. "So thank you, Mr.

At a news conference on Feb. 28, Bush was asked what message he's
sending by attending the Olympics amid public outcry about human rights
abuses. Bush again was not specific about his role at the Olympics,
stressing though that he is going as a sports aficinado.

"I'm going to the Olympics because it's a sporting event, and I'm
looking forward to seeing the athletic competition," Bush said. "But
that will not preclude me from meeting with the Chinese President,
expressing my deep concerns about a variety of issues — just like I do
every time I meet with the President."

Bush added, "I'm a sports fan. I'm looking forward to the competition.
And each Olympic society will make its own decision as to how to deal
with the athletes.

From: CNN White House Correspondent Ed Henry
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