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Harper Dismisses SPP Protests As "Sad"

AP | August 21, 2007
DEB RIECHMANN

President Bush and the leaders of Mexico and Canada worked Monday to craft a plan to secure their borders in the event of a terrorist strike or other emergency without creating traffic tie-ups that slowed commerce at crossings after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Bush, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper want their homeland security experts to figure out the best way to protect citizens in an emergency, perhaps an outbreak of avian flu, without snarling business among the trading partners.

More broadly, the goal of the North American summit was to seek middle ground on shared concerns about the border and a host of other issues ranging from energy to trade, food safety to immigration. The three-way meeting at a highly secured red cedar chateau along the banks of the Ottawa River focused on administrative and regulatory issues, not sweeping legislative proposals for North America.

Few, if any, formal announcements were expected. The meeting served to address thorny problems between the U.S. and its neighbors to the North and South and bolster a compact - dubbed the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America - that serves as a way for the nations to team up on health, security and commerce.

Several hundred demonstrators protested on issues such as the war in Iraq, human rights and integration of North America. One carried a banner that said: ``Say No To Americanada.''

Calderon and Harper both want tight relations with Bush, yet don't want to be seen as proteges of the unpopular president or leave the impression that the U.S. is encroaching on their sovereignty.

To that end, Harper is asserting his nation's claim to the Northwest Passage through the Arctic.

The race to secure subsurface rights to the Arctic seabed heated up when Russia sent two small submarines to plant a tiny national flag under the North Pole. The United States and Norway also have competing claims in the vast Arctic region, where a U.S. study suggests as much as 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas could be hidden.

Canada believes much of the North American side of the Arctic is Canada's, but the United States says that the thawing Northwest Passage is part of international waters.

``We look at the Northwest Passage as an international waterway, and want the international transit rights to be respected there,'' White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. ``But certainly President Bush will listen to what Prime Minister Harper has to say.''

Harper also plans to raise concerns about new passport requirements for travelers, longtime U.S. restrictions on Canadian softwood lumber exports and the war in Afghanistan.

Harper has said Canada's military mission in Afghanistan will not be extended beyond 2009 without a consensus in the country and the Parliament. Canada has 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, fighting against the Taliban in the violet southern parts of the nation. Other countries, such as Germany ad Italy, restrict the use of their forces to more peaceful areas in the north.

With Hurricane Dean bearing down on Mexico, Calderon might have to cut his meetings short with Bush and Calderon. This is his first meeting with Bush since the U.S. immigration legislation died in the Senate. Calderon has called that a ``grave error'' and also is rankled by the Bush administration's newly announced crackdown on employers who use illegal immigrants.

It's unclear whether the United States will use the summit to announce a major new aid plan to help Mexico fight violent drug trafficking. U.S. anti-drug officials have been impressed with Caldron's crackdown on drug traffickers since he took office.

But Calderon has repeatedly pushed the U.S. to take more responsibility in fighting the two countries' common drug problem, including doing more to stop the flow of illegal U.S. arms into Mexico and trying to combat the demand for drugs north of the border. The issue of U.S. aid is a sensitive subject among Mexicans wary that U.S. help could lead to interventions that violate Mexican sovereignty.

Bush stepped off Air Force One and onto a red carpet at an airport in Ottawa where he was greeted by a bagpiper and a ceremonial honor guard dressed in red jackets and tall, black fur hats. Bush flew to the resort on the Marine One presidential helicopter, which landed in a grassy clearing along the water.

A few hundred protesters amassed at the gate of the resort. Police in riot gear used tear gas to hold back about 50 of them, who responded by flinging rocks, branches and plastic bottles. A line of police in riot gear jostled with about 50 demonstrators. A few hundred marched on the front gate of the summit compound shouting taunts.

``I've heard it's nothing,'' Harper said, dismissing the protests as Bush arrived at the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello. ``A couple hundred? It's sad.''

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