Martin hopes to rebuild ties to U.S.

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MONTREAL — Canada, where relations with its powerful neighbor south of the border have deteriorated since Ottawa refused to join the U.S.-led war against Iraq, is hoping for improved ties during President Bush’s second term.

Prime Minister Paul Martin was among the world leaders who called Mr. Bush on Wednesday, after his Democratic rival, Sen. John Kerry, conceded defeat, to congratulate the president on his victory and to invite him to visit.

Mr. Bush, who went to Canada in June 2002 for a Group of Eight summit, was supposed to make a state visit in May 2003 but abruptly canceled the trip after Canada refused to join his “coalition of the willing” against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.

Canadian opinion polls show that two-thirds of Canadians preferred to see a Kerry victory in the U.S. presidential election. Mr. Martin, however, steadfastly refused to choose sides, saying repeatedly that he would work with the U.S. administration, “whatever it may be.”

Many members of Parliament from his governing Liberal Party were less shy about expressing their opposition to Mr. Bush’s re-election.

This prompted a renewed debate last week in the Canadian Parliament, with Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper saying that U.S.-Canadian relations were continuously being harmed by what he called anti-American sentiment in the governing party.

Mr. Harper accused Mr. Martin of allowing leaders, including some Cabinet ministers, “not only to take one side in the U.S. election, but to have taken the wrong side.”

But the Canadian government continues to insist that relations between Ottawa and Washington are good, even if Mr. Martin is not seen as a close buddy of Mr. Bush — in contrast with the friendships that developed between former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and President Reagan and the first President Bush, or between former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien and President Clinton.

Ottawa’s official position was summed up by Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew on Thursday in an interview with Radio Canada.

“We have our own personality,” he said, “and I believe it is absolutely possible for us to live together on this great North American continent, respecting each other and living according to our own respective social values.”

Nevertheless, there are problems between the two countries that share the world’s largest single trading partnership.

Mr. Martin told reporters that in his phone call to Mr. Bush on Wednesday, he raised what Ottawa sees as key irritants in the bilateral relationship — specifically, continued U.S. restrictions on imports of Canadian beef, wheat and softwood lumber.

But the prime minister is being more circumspect on another divisive issue, refusing to be clear about whether his government will join the U.S. nuclear missile defense (NMD) system that Mr. Bush is pursuing.

Mr. Martin has confirmed that Ottawa is going ahead with talks with the Americans about how — or whether — Canada should join NMD, although he has stated repeatedly that Canada would not participate in “the weaponization of space.”

Mr. Martin, whose Liberal Party does not have a majority in Parliament, has been forced to agree to a parliamentary vote on Canadian participation in NMD. With his own party divided on the issue, it is not clear whether the prime minister will get parliamentary approval should he agree to sign on.

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