- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 21, 2008

John McCain” href=”/themes/?Theme=John+McCain” >Sen. John McCain on Friday accused Barack Obama” href=”/themes/?Theme=Barack+Obama” >Sen. Barack Obama of “retreating behind protectionist walls,” using a trip to Canada to blast his Democratic presidential rival for insisting on changing free trade agreements.

“Demanding unilateral changes and threatening to abrogate an agreement that has increased trade and prosperity is nothing more than retreating behind protectionist walls,” said Mr. McCain, though he didn’t mention Mr. Obama by name. “If I am elected president, have no doubt that America will honor its international commitments - and we will expect the same of others.”

Mr. McCain told Canadians he sees eye to eye with them on combating global warming and assured international allies he will listen to them on issues such as closing the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In his second foreign trip since securing Republicans’ presidential nomination, Mr. McCain stressed his willingness to listen to other countries, implicitly drawing a distinction with President Bush, who foreign pundits have criticized for refusing to do the same.

“I aspire to lead a proud, outward-looking America that deepens its partnerships throughout the hemisphere and the world,” the Arizona senator told the Toronto Economic Club.

In the run-up to the speech Mr. McCain said it was not supposed to be a political excursion, but Democrats said he crossed the line. They also said U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins, who Canadian news reports said helped with arrangements for the visit, might have violated federal law.

The Democratic National Committee filed a Freedom of Information Act request to try to track down what involvement Mr. Wilkins had, and Mr. McCain’s campaign was left to explain a closed-door afternoon meeting at a private residence that news reports said had been billed as a fundraiser.

“By apparently running afoul of the Hatch Act during his trip to Canada today, it appears that Senator McCain is once again putting his political aspirations ahead of following the law,” said DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney.

Mr. McCain said his trip was to thank Canada for participating in the war on terror and to highlight trade ties with the nation. During the Democrats’ primary Mr. Obama called for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement and said the U.S. should consider opting out as a way of gaining leverage in negotiations.

In a statement issued after his speech Friday, Mr. McCain accused Mr. Obama of backing away.

“The American people and our allies deserve better than calculated efforts to re-invent positions to sound less irresponsible,” Mr. McCain said.

In his speech Mr. McCain pointed to several areas where he differs from the Bush administration, including his eagerness to tackle global warming and his opposition to Guantanamo Bay.

“Many Canadians have objected to the policies of the United States in dealing with terrorists, and with enemy combatants held at the Guantanamo prison. It happens that I also regard the prison at Guantanamo as a liability in the cause against violent radical extremism, and as president I would close it,” he said, drawing applause from the sold-out crown of business leaders.

While he didn’t mention Mr. Obama in his speech, Mr. McCain pointedly noted that he traveled in Canada three years ago to investigate global warming with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mr. McCain has been tying himself to Mr. Obama’s former competitor for the Democratic nomination, hoping to win over some of her primary supporters.

Mr. McCain also heaped praise on Canada for being a good neighbor, including sharing each other’s national pastimes: “What a blessing it is for the United States to have in Canada a neighbor we fear only on ice rinks and baseball diamonds.”