Russian president arrives in Canada

OTTAWA (AP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Canada Sunday for a state visit aimed at strengthening his nation's role among world powers and enlisting Ottawa's support in opposing a proposed U.S. missile defense system.

Putin was to meet with Prime Minister Jean Chretien and other Canadian officials on Monday, then address business leaders in Toronto on Tuesday before heading back to Moscow.

Also Tuesday, European Union leaders come to Ottawa for a Canadian-EU summit as Canada finds itself in the diplomatic spotlight this week.

Putin's trip to Canada completes his goal of visiting or meeting with every head of state in the G-8 club, which includes the United States, Russia, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, England and Canada. His personal diplomacy has helped Russia gain a standing in the group, a crucial step for Putin's efforts to rebuild a struggling economy and try to offset U.S. dominance in the post-Soviet era.

By hosting Putin and the EU-Canada summit, Chretien - who will be the longest-serving G-8 leader when President Clinton steps down in January - is seeking to position Canada as a facilitator between his guests and the United States.

Putin arrived in Canada from Cuba. While the United States imposes sanctions on Cuba, Canada defies its powerful southern neighbor by trading with the communist island and holding full diplomatic relations.

Now Putin wants Canada to join Russia in opposing a U.S. proposal for a new North American missile defense system, an idea supported by President-elect Bush.

The missile defense system could provoke Bush's first international dispute. Russia is deeply opposed to its development, which it says would breach a 28-year-old anti-ballistic missile treaty. Russian leaders fear it could ignite another arms race, which their beleaguered economy can't afford.

Putin told Canadian journalists in Moscow last week that Canada could help resolve the dispute by joining Russia in opposing the U.S. plan.

''The lower the level of nuclear conflict between the main nuclear states, the better,'' Putin said. ''That's why we call upon the world community and our partners in the nuclear club to act together to ease the nuclear confrontation.''

Canada also has expressed concern the U.S. plan could cause a weapons escalation, but has refrained from openly rejecting it.

Putin will try to jump-start Russia-Canada trade, which has tapered off badly since the 1998 Russian economic crisis.

Trade with Russia comprises less than 1 percent of Canada's total, with Canadian exports to Russia falling to $116 million last year from $255 million in 1997.

A central point of discussion when French President Jacques Chirac and European Commission President Romano Prodi visit Tuesday is expected to be a proposed EU rapid reaction military force.

The EU, stepping into the defense arena for the first time, is creating the 60,000-member force to be used in peacekeeping and humanitarian crises when NATO as a whole does not want to get involved.

The new force would have access to NATO resources, such as planning capacity, intelligence and communications.

Canada, a NATO member, supports the general concept but wants guarantees NATO would be compensated for any of its resources used by the EU force, foreign affairs spokesman Carl Schwenger said.

Canadian Defense Minister Art Eggleton said in a recent speech that the EU must cooperate with NATO instead of trying to set up its own decision-making sphere within the alliance.

''From Canada's point of view, exclusion or marginalization is not an option for the alliance of today or the future,'' Eggleton said. ''Nor is polarization, for a polarization between the U.S. and the EU on security and defense issues would leave Canada caught in the middle.''


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