- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Friendlier neighbors

Only 10 months after Canada elected a conservative prime minister, Canadians and Americans have developed a better view of each other and settled one of the longest and most contentious trade disputes.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, elected in January, immediately set out to mend relations with President Bush that were battered under the previous Liberal Party prime minister, Jean Chretien.

A public-opinion poll confirmed the improved attitudes on both sides of the border. U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins says the better relations are making his job easier in the Canadian capital, Ottawa.

“I said when I first arrived that my highest goal was to strengthen the ties that bind our countries, so these poll numbers are particularly encouraging,” he said in a recent speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Toronto.

The poll, released Oct. 5, was commissioned by the Canada Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington and the Canada Institute on North American Issues in Toronto.

“The results were most encouraging,” said Mr. Wilkins, ambassador in Ottawa since June 2005. “It verified what I think all of us who are engaged day to day in the U.S.-Canada relationship have been feeling.”

The poll found that 58 percent of Canadians view the United States as their closest ally, an increase of 5 percent from last year. Eighty-five percent of Canadians view Americans as friends, an increase of 12 percent from the previous poll. Ninety percent of Americans call Canada a friend, an increase of 8 percent from last year.

“Majorities on both sides of the border agree Canada is doing enough to secure the U.S.-Canada border, and that is exceptionally good news, as leaders in both our countries … have spoken honestly about our mutual cooperation and communication in fighting the war on terror,” Mr. Wilkins said.

He noted that the new attitude was reflected in the recent trade compromise over Canadian softwood lumber, used in much of the U.S. home-building industry. The conflict festered for more than 20 years.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recognized the improved relations when she visited Canada to mark the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. In 2001, U.S.-bound flights were diverted to Canada, and many Canadians invited American travelers into their homes.

She “could have spent [the anniversary] anywhere in the world, but she chose to be here, in Canada, thanking a friend,” Mr. Wilkins said.

‘Jury is out’

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan yesterday questioned the British decision to pull out of a troubled southern province after turning over security patrols to local militias and criticized European nations for failing to confront Taliban fighters in the same area.

“There is a lot of nervousness about who the truce was made with, who the arrangement was made with and whether it will hold,” Ambassador Ronald Neumann told London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper in an interview in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

British troops reached an agreement with local militias in the town of Musa Qala in Helmand province last week, after killing hundreds of Taliban fighters and losing eight British soldiers over the past several months.

Mr. Neumann said the “jury is out” on the question of whether that was a wise decision or whether it will allow the Taliban to gain control in the south.

He also criticized NATO nations for stationing troops in quiet parts of Afghanistan and avoiding combat in Helmand.

“There was a NATO decision to go to Afghanistan,” Mr. Neumann said. “I think it is appropriate to ask all nations to respect the decision that they participated in making. Not everyone has respected that decision.”

Mr. Neumann declined to name the nations he faulted. France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Turkey have troops in Afghanistan but have refused to deploy them in the south.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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