- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2008

THANKFUL FOR CANADA

In a farewell speech as U.S. ambassador to Canada, David H. Wilkins praised Canadian troops for their bravery in Afghanistan and promised to be Canada’s best friend in the United States when he leaves Ottawa in January.

“Every freedom-loving nation owes Canada a debt of gratitude for the heroic role Canadian Forces are playing in the war on terror in Afghanistan,” he said at the Economic Club of Toronto this week. “Canada is doing some of the heaviest lifting in the toughest parts of Kandahar and deserves our steadfast thanks and praise.”

Mr. Wilkins recalled visiting Canadian soldiers last Christmas in the southern province of Kandahar, the scene of some of the most intense fighting against Taliban militants and the area where most of Canada’s 2,500 troops are deployed.

“It was an honor for me to thank your brave Canadians soldiers for risking everything in freedom’s name,” he said.

Mr. Wilkins, a former Republican politician from South Carolina who chaired President Bush’s statewide re-election campaign in 2004, said he specifically asked Mr. Bush to select him to serve as ambassador to Canada and immediately set out to rekindle U.S.-Canadian relations when he and his wife, Susan, arrived in 2005. His other goal was to help Americans better understand their northern neighbor, which is also the largest U.S. trading partner and largest supplier of foreign oil.

“How I faired is for others to decide, but I do leave here knowing that more people down south [in the United States] now know how valuable Canada is, not only to the United States, but to the world,” he said.

“And I vow that is a story I will never stop telling because Americans need to keep hearing it.”

Mr. Wilkins also congratulated President-elect Barack Obama and advised Canadian leaders to develop personal relationships with members of the new administration.

“It is vital for my country, for your country and for every freedom-loving country that President Obama succeeds,” he said.

The ambassador added that, as he packs up the “memories of our life here,” he is saving photos and mementos from Canada’s provinces and territories.

“I’m even taking back some of the not-so-kind letters, my most favorite from a man who was so mad at me he promised to drag me back across the border by my hair. A pretty frivolous threat,” he said.

Mr. Wilkins is bald.

CUBA CALLING

When Barack Obama pledged to meet with the leaders of rogue nations if elected president, at least one leader was listening.

Cuban President Raul Castro told the U.S. magazine the Nation that he would consider meeting with Mr. Obama after he is inaugurated in January, but Mr. Castro insisted that any such talks be in a neutral location.

He suggested Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. enclave in Cuba since 1903 when the Cuban-American Treaty granted Washington a perpetual lease on the southern harbor. It is also the site of the U.S. prison for foreign terrorist suspects.

“Personally I think it would not be fair that I be the first to visit because it is always the Latin American presidents who go to the United States first,” he told American actor Sean Penn, who conducted the interview in the latest edition of the liberal magazine.

“But it would also be unfair to expect the president of the United States to come to Cuba. We should meet in a neutral place.”

Mr. Castro took over the government of Cuba in July 2006, after his older brother, the communist revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, fell ill and resigned as president.

Mr. Obama has announced plans to lift Bush administration restrictions on Cuban-Americans visiting Cuba but has pledged to maintain the 46-year-old U.S. trade embargo until Cuba embraces democracy.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail James Morrison.

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