WASHINGTON, US - US PRESIDENT George W. Bush said on Thursday he had not changed his plans to attend the Beijing Olympics, despite a growing row over China's support for Sudan amid the Darfur crisis.
In an interview with the BBC, Mr Bush said he had no reason to use the Olympics as a way to highlight such issues because he did it 'all the time' in private with the Chinese leadership.
'I'm going to the Olympics. I view the Olympics as a sporting event,' Mr Bush told the BBC in an interview aired on Thursday.
In what was a public relations disaster for the Games, Hollywood film-maker Steven Spielberg announced Tuesday that he was cutting ties with the Olympics and quitting as its artistic advisor.
Spielberg accused China of not doing enough to press its ally Sudan to end the devastating violence in Darfur.
At the same time, a series of Nobel Prize laureates, Olympic athletes and lawmakers from around the world penned an open letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao also urging Beijing to use its pressure on Khartoum.
Mr Bush told BBC World America that what Spielberg did was 'up to him.'
'I have a little different platform than Steven Spielberg, so I get to talk to President Hu Jintao. And I do remind him that he can do more to relieve the suffering in Darfur.' The US president added 'there's a lot of issues that I suspect people are going to opine' about during the August Olympics.
'I am not going to go and use the Olympics as an opportunity to express my opinions to the Chinese people in a public way because I do it all the time with the president.'
UN officials estimate around 200,000 people have died in Darfur from the combined effects of war, famine and disease since 2003, when a civil conflict erupted between government-backed Arab militias and non-Arab ethnic groups.
China is a major economic partner and supplier of arms to the government of Sudan, which is accused of backing militia forces responsible for much of the violence.
In his statement, Spielberg said he would no longer act as adviser to the Beijing Olympics for the opening and closing ceremonies.
'Sudan's government bears the bulk of the responsibility for these ongoing crimes but the international community, and particularly China, should be doing more to end the continuing human suffering,' he said in a statement.
Beijing was swift to respond, defending its support for the government and accusing its critics of prejudice against China.
'If they don't know the Chinese policy, I can understand. But if they have got some objectives, especially political objectives, we cannot accept that,' foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said.
Ms Zhu Jing, a spokeswoman for the Olympic organising committee, said Beijing had made 'unremitting efforts' to help resolve the Darfur issue.
She added: 'Linking the Darfur issue to the Olympic Games will not help to resolve this issue and is not in line with the Olympic spirit that separates sports from politics.' With less than six months to go before the Games, Darfur is one of just many blackspots that threaten to tarnish the Olympics.
China's controversial rule of Tibet, its relations with rival Taiwan, and alleged wide-ranging human rights abuses are among other issues to have caused controversy.
Last month, an aide to Britain's Prince Charles said last month that the heir to the British throne would not attend the opening ceremony, apparently because of opposition to China's handling of Tibet.
Rights groups and activists have accused China of ramping up a campaign of repression against dissidents to ensure they are silenced during the Games.
Beijing's notorious air pollution has also drawn unwanted headlines, with Ethiopian distance legend Haile Gebrselassie warning that he may pull out of the Olympic marathon because of fears for his health. -- AFP