Monday, August 20, 2007

OTTAWA — President Bush’s two-day summit with the leaders of Canada and Mexico, beginning today in nearby Montebello, is raising fears among some conservatives that the three governments are planning a European Union-style super-government.

Concerns about such an agreement and where it could lead started on Web sites and among talk-radio hosts, picked up by CNN commentator Lou Dobbs and gained traction among some of the House Republicans who successfully derailed Mr. Bush’s immigration-reform plan, which critics described as an amnesty for the millions of illegal aliens in the United States.

“We want you to be aware of serious and growing concerns in the U.S. Congress about the so-called Security and Prosperity Partnership you launched with these nations in 2005,” 21 Republican members of Congress, along with one Democrat, said in a letter to President Bush.

The House has adopted an amendment barring U.S. transportation officials from participating in future meetings of the partnership.

The White House dismissed suspicions of a coming North American Union as a “silly” conspiracy theory. “Americans are going to remain Americans, Canadians are going to remain Canadians and Mexicans are going to remain Mexicans,” a senior Bush administration official said on the condition of anonymity.

But the fight over immigration policy, in which some conservatives accused Mr. Bush of siding with multinational business interests to adopt policies undermining U.S. sovereignty, has aggravated fears about cross-border cooperation with Mexico.

“A couple of events I’ve done this week, this question did come up about the issue of open borders, and how much is this country doing to cut these arrangements with Canada and Mexico to basically give free access in and out of this country,” said Rep. Walter B. Jones, North Carolina Republican, who signed the letter of concern.

Rep. Chris Cannon, Utah Republican — who did not sign the letter — said he has heard questions and complaints from many constituents about the three-party talks and how they could affect U.S. sovereignty.

“Any time you’re talking with another country about how you do things, by nature you’re giving up sovereignty,” Mr. Cannon said. Talks among the three nations’ working groups should be more open, with Congress participating.

“If we’re going to enter into agreements, they ought to be part of a ratifiable process. You want the Senate involved in ratifying them.”

Howard Phillips, a newspaper columnist, conservative activist and one-time Nixon administration official, organized a press conference to be held this morning to announce opposition to the Partnership. “We’re not getting a North American Union overnight, but it’s headed in that direction incrementally,” he said.

The Bush administration official said the White House has made the Partnership, a series of talks begun in 2005, overly complicated. “If people think it’s that complicated, then there’s something more to it,” he said. The purpose of the Partnership is to build upon the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he said has generated $884 billion in trade among the United States, Mexico and Canada over the past 12 years. He said the Partnership adds a security element to the economic and trade partnership.

“We’ve tried to recognize that this is an economic relationship, but also in a post-9/11 world, we have to have security. You can’t have one without the other,” he said. “None of these three countries are talking about changing their fundamental political structure or their fundamental constitutional structure in any way, [nor] adding either a common currency or a “bureaucratic superstructure.”

But with many of the working groups discussing security measures that the Bush official said cannot be fully disclosed, the element of secrecy continues to raise suspicions. Said the congressional letter to Mr. Bush: “We urge you to bring to the Congress whatever provisions have already been agreed upon and those now being pursued.”

Mr. Bush will meet individually with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon at the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello resort. Tomorrow, he will take part in three-way meetings and a press conference, and then fly to Minnesota for a fundraiser for Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican.

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