- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2004

OTTAWA — President Bush yesterday said that despite public-opinion surveys showing that most Canadians oppose the U.S.-led war in Iraq, Americans endorsed the Bush administration’s foreign policy when they re-elected him last month.

“You know, I haven’t seen the polls you look at,” the president told a Canadian reporter, who had asked whether Mr. Bush bears “any responsibility” for strained relations with America’s northern neighbor.

“We just had a poll in our country where people decided that the foreign policy of the Bush administration ought to stay in place for four more years. And it’s a foreign policy that works with our neighbors,” Mr. Bush said.

The U.S.-Canada relationship was bruised shortly after Mr. Bush sent troops into Iraq in March 2003 to disarm dictator Saddam Hussein. Prime Minister Jean Chretien vehemently — and vocally — opposed the war.

Two months later, Mr. Bush canceled a trip to Canada. The same month, the president banned U.S. imports of live Canadian cattle after a case of mad cow disease was discovered in Alberta, a western province. The move has cost Canada more than $4 billion.

Unlike his predecessor, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has taken a softer line with the United States. He called Mr. Bush last month to congratulate him on his re-election and to invite him to Canada. As evidence that relations are warming, Mr. Bush accepted and showed up just three weeks later.

“I want to thank the Canadian people who came out to wave — with all five fingers — for the hospitality,” he said, drawing laughter from 100 reporters gathered in a downtown government building for a brief press conference.

Although Mr. Martin said disagreements are natural with other nations — even neighbors — he avoided uttering even one word of dissent over the Iraq war.

“Obviously, there are disagreements on various questions of foreign policy,” Mr. Martin said. “It is quite normal among countries to have this kind of disagreement. But we have common shared values, shared ambitions, and we share optimism also. I think that is what is fundamental.”

The two leaders ribbed each other good-naturedly during the jovial press conference. Mr. Martin, who alternated between French and English, even picked up the president’s joke about hand gestures, saying that when Mr. Bush and foreign leaders were in Chile this month for an economic summit, he found that “Spanish and English and French are three different languages, but that sign language is universal.”

Still, Mr. Bush was not apologetic in the least about his decision to go to war in Iraq, which polls show 80 percent of Canadians oppose, or to enact a stern foreign policy, despite opposition from Canada and some European nations.

“It’s a foreign policy that also understands that we’ve got an obligation to defend our security. I made some decisions, obviously, that some in Canada didn’t agree with, like, for example, when we removed Saddam Hussein and enforcing the demands of the United Nations Security Council,” Mr. Bush said.

“That’s a legitimate point to debate. But I’m the kind of fellow who does what I think is right and will continue to do what I think is right. I’ll consult with our friends and neighbors, but if I think it’s right to remove Saddam Hussein for the security of the United States, that’s the course of action I’ll take. And some people don’t like that; I understand that.”

The president also said the Canadian prime minister expressed “a great deal of frustration” over the U.S. ban on cattle, but he said the United States is moving “as quickly as possible” to rectify the situation.

“I don’t know if you’ve got bureaucracy here in Canada or not, but we’ve got one in America, and there are a series of rules that have to be met in order for us to be able to allow the trafficking of cows back and forth,” he said. “So we’re working as quickly as we can. And I understand the impact it’s had on your industry here.”

A senior administration official said a White House review, just under way, could take up to 90 days.

Mr. Martin diplomatically urged patience on the issue.

“We hope that, after a reasonable amount of time — we hope it won’t be too long — we hope to obtain a favorable decision,” he said.

But he was firmer on the United States’ 27 percent duty on Canadian softwood lumber, which has been in effect since 1982.

“Once again, we expressed our frustration, and we said that a better way will have to be found to solve our differences,” Mr. Martin said. “The system in place at the present time does not correspond to the reality of exchanges between our two countries. We’ll have to find a better way.”

On another international issue, Mr. Bush welcomed Iran’s assertion that it was moving away from uranium enrichment that could be used in assembling nuclear weapons, but expressed disappointment that Iran had agreed to only suspend the program.

“Our position is that they ought to terminate their nuclear- weapons program,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Martin also discussed Canada’s role in the U.S. missile-defense system, but officials from both nations offered few details.

The first U.S. missile bases in the shield have been set up in Alaska and California — and with parts of Canada jammed between those two points, the question of whether Canada helps out could become a sensitive point.

A Bush proposal for a continental missile-defense shield has become a divisive issue in Canada, even though the two countries cooperate closely through the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

Mr. Bush’s visit to Canada was met with protest from several hundred young people. Shortly after his press conference, dozens of police in riot gear pushed protesters back from the Chateau Laurier hotel, where some members of the U.S. delegation were staying.

The shoving match was close to parliament buildings where Mr. Bush earlier had met with Mr. Martin and other senior officials.

Riot police — wearing helmets, face masks, in some cases gas masks and carrying riot shields — held back the protesters who threw sticks, stones and paint bombs.

A few officers were injured, and several protesters were arrested.

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