Bush asks Canada for support in Iraq, Mideast
Associated Press Writer
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (AP) – President Bush asked Canadians on Wednesday to move beyond their deep opposition to the Iraq war and get behind his vision of democracies blooming from Baghdad to the West Bank.
“Sometimes even the closest of friends disagree, and two years ago we disagreed about the course of action in Iraq,” Bush said, standing at the side of Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin.
But, Bush said, “there is no disagreement at all with what has to be done in going forward. We must help the Iraqi people secure their country and build a free and democratic society.”
On a bridge-building trip to America’s northern neighbor, Bush conceded that the United States can be a difficult “elephant” to live next to but delivered a forceful defense of his approach to combatting terrorism.
“We must take the fight to them, we must be relentless and we must be steadfast in our duty to protect our people,” he said.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien refused to send Canadian troops to Iraq, and polls show more than 80 percent of Canadians still support that decision.
Bush’s visit to this port city was linked to the Sept. 11 attacks, the defining event of his presidency and the spark for his eventual decision to invade Iraq.
On the day of the terror attacks against New York and Washington in 2001, some 33,000 passengers on airplanes bound for U.S. airports were diverted to Canadian provinces, including Nova Scotia.
“These were places that many aboard had never heard of. They are now places that few of the passengers will ever forget,” Martin said.
Bush offered a belated thank you, and used the moment to seek a fresh start with Canadians.
“For days after Sept. 11, Canadians came to the aid of men and women and children who were worried and confused and had nowhere to sleep,” the president said inside the Port 21 Museum, a historic site that was for decades a gateway for immigration and troop movements.
“You opened your homes and your churches to strangers, you brought food, you set up clinics, you arranged for calls to their loved ones, and you asked for nothing in return,” the president said.
“Thank you for your kindness to America in an hour of need.”
“Beyond the words of politicians and the natural disagreements that nations will have, our two peoples are one family and always will be,” he said.
Reminders of the disagreements were just outside.
A couple of hundred protesters chanted anti-Bush slogans and held signs that read, “PM (Prime Minister) don’t make deals with the devil,” “Terrorists go home” and “Tanks for nothing.”
Bush’s audience sat mostly in silence as he called on Canadians and other allies to join him in “great goals,” each of them relating to terrorism and each long ingrained in Bush policy.
First, he said, America and close friends such as Canada must make sure institutions such as the United Nations are “more relevant and more effective in meeting the unique threats of our time.”
Second, governments must throw every resource at combating terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, he said. On this point, Bush threw in a pitch for the missile shield his administration is working on – an effort Canada is considering joining. Later, Martin said Canada will not support the plan if it means putting weapons in space, but he also said he didn’t know exactly what Bush had in mind.
Last, the United States and allies can “enhance our own security by promoting freedom and hope and democracy in the broader Middle East.”
Bush singled out his longstanding goal of a new, democratic Palestinian state coexisting peacefully with Israel, and he dismissed past efforts to nibble at the troubles there with small-scale negotiations over borders and settlement sites.
“This approach has been tried before without success,” Bush said. “The Palestinian people deserve a peaceful government that truly serves their interests, and the Israeli people need a true partner in peace.”
“If all parties will apply effort, if all nations who are concerned about this issue will apply good will, this conflict can end and peace can be achieved,” he said. “And the time for that effort and the time for that good will is now.”
It took Bush nearly four years to make an official visit to Canada, though he’s been twice before for global summits. He did not make Canada his first foreign visit, as many of his predecessors did.
In this bilingual nation, where politicians and marketers alike speak two languages, Bush did not attempt any French, as Ronald Reagan did on his first foreign visit as president in 1981.