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Bush weighs skipping Olympics opening

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  • NEW: Speaker Pelosi comments on Olympic torch run through San Francisco
  • White House says Bush may skip ceremonies to protest crackdown on Tibet
  • German, French leaders have suggested that they may skip opening
  • Bush could still visit Olympic sporting events
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From Ed Henry
CNN White House Correspondent
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House left the door open Tuesday to President Bush skipping the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics to protest China's human rights record and its crackdown in Tibet.

The White House opened the door to Bush not attending the Olympic opening ceremonies this summer.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, however, suggested that the president might attend some of the athletic events at the Olympic Games in August if he skipped the opening.

The president has said since last year that he plans to attend the Olympics, but he has never been specific about his visit. Bush has stressed he's a sports fan who wants to support U.S. athletes at the games.

Asked whether Bush will attend the opening ceremonies, typically a major showcase for the host country, 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. Video Watch why Bush may skip the opening »

"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."

Bush is under heavy pressure from Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to boycott the opening ceremonies as a protest of the Chinese government's handling of Tibet, among other issues, a move endorsed Monday by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Pelosi suggested skipping the opening ceremonies would be better than a full-scale U.S. boycott of the 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 this month. "I think the president might want to rethink this later, depending on what other heads of state do."

Pelosi, who represents San Francisco, California, released a statement Tuesday on the Olympic torch relay's planned route through the city Wednesday. San Francisco is the only city in North America to be host to the torch.

"The torch will be met by politicians and heads-of-state from all over the world along a 'journey of harmony.' It is the Chinese government that is making the Olympic torch relay a political event," she wrote.

"As San Franciscans, we embrace the diversity of our community and ... also value free expression, and this week, many will exercise this right by demonstrating against the Olympic torch," Pelosi added.

"I urge all those who protest to do so peacefully and respectfully. I commend those who speak out for their commitment to shining a light on the causes that challenge the conscience of the world."

Pelosi has filed a nonbinding resolution calling on the Chinese government to cease the crackdown in Tibet and begin dialogue with the Dalai Lama. The House will debate the measure Tuesday night and vote Wednesday.

The resolution does not address Pelosi's suggestion that Bush should forgo attending opening ceremonies at the Olympics.

Asked Tuesday whether President Bush should skip the opening, Arizona Sen. John Kyl, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said, "I am not going to give him advice on that, but I tell you this: I would personally entertain the notion of not going."

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was less forthcoming. He said he is "sure the president will do what he thinks is appropriate in that circumstance, and I don't have any advice to offer him publicly."

Kyl said that the matter was not discussed Tuesday at a meeting of Senate Republicans and that there are no plans to give the president a formal recommendation on the issue.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a key Bush ally, has suggested that she will boycott the opening ceremonies. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, another Bush ally, has also left the door open to such a protest. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he does not plan to boycott the opening ceremonies.

In September, after a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the APEC Summit in Australia, Bush said he would attend the Olympics. Bush said the Chinese president had "extended an invitation to me and Laura and our family to come to the Olympics."

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

At a news conference February 28, Bush was asked what message he would be sending by attending the Olympics amid public outcry about human rights abuses. He again was not specific about his role at the Olympics, saying he would be going as a sports aficionado.

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"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." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Ted Barrett and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

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