Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, are among the world leaders who have confirmed they will skip the Olympics gala.

British officials insist Brown never intended to attend the opening ceremony in the first place, although they say he will attend the closing ceremony, as London is hosting the next summer games in 2012.

Senior US politicians including both presidential candidates, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, have urged Bush to skip the event if China's record does not improve.

On Thursday Dana Perino, a White House press secretary, said Bush and his wife will attend the ceremonies on August 8 as part of a trip to China after stops in South Korea and Thailand on a farewell tour of Asia.

In a statement Perino said Bush was "pleased" that Beijing was in talks with representatives of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, but added that his attendance did not depend on the outcome.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has linked his attendance at the Olympic ceremony to progress in ongoing talks over the situation in Tibet.

The Olympic ceremonies are due to be held in the 80,000-seat National Stadium in the Chinese capital, nicknamed the Bird's Nest because of the intricate lattice work on its outer shell.

Bush has repeatedly rejected calls to boycott the Olympics, saying he saw it as a sporting event not to be used for political leverage.