Bush to attend Olympics opening ceremony

Decision is good news for NBC, its advertisers

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NEW YORK -- The White House said late Thursday that President and Laura Bush would attend the Aug. 8 opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

The confirmation ends speculation over whether Bush would join other world leaders like French President Nicolas Sarkozy in possibly boycotting the opening ceremonies unless progress has been made on human rights in Tibet. Sarkozy linked his attendance to talks between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in March she would not attend the ceremony.

Bush will already be in Asia for a visit to South Korea and Thailand; the question was whether he would attend the opening. The White House had previously said Bush would attend the Beijing Games.

Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Dana Perino alluded to the likelihood that Bush would attend the opening ceremonies.

"He believes he's going to China to support first and foremost our athletes. He sees this as a sporting competition," Perino told reporters at the afternoon press briefing. "But at the same time, just as he will this week when he sees President Hu (Jintao), he will talk to him about these important issues of human rights and especially religious freedom."

The decision is also good news for NBC and its advertisers, who are heavily invested in the Olympic Games and would be affected by any large-scale boycott. NBC execs have been privately concerned about how human rights abuses in China and Tibet, and protests surrounding them, would affect viewership. But they've also reportedly learned through polling that the majority of American viewers haven't been fazed by the political issues and separate the politics from the competition.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported Thursday that two Republican congressmen in China said Bush shouldn't attend the Olympics at all unless human rights are better respected.

"Unless there's tremendous progress over the next month, whereby they release some of these prisoners, I personally do not think the president should attend, nor do I think the secretary of state should attend the Olympics," the AP quoted U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, as saying. He was joined by U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., in the visit.