Bush Defends Foreign Policy in Canada Trip; Cites Backing of U.S. Voters

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Byline: Joseph Curl, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

OTTAWA - President Bush yesterday said that despite public-opinion surveys showing that most Canadians oppose the U.S.-led war in Iraq, Americans endorsed the Bush administration's foreign policy when they re-elected him last month.

"You know, I haven't seen the polls you look at," the president told a Canadian reporter, who had asked whether Mr. Bush bears "any responsibility" for strained relations with America's northern neighbor.

"We just had a poll in our country where people decided that the foreign policy of the Bush administration ought to stay in place for four more years. And it's a foreign policy that works with our neighbors," Mr. Bush said.

The U.S.-Canada relationship was bruised shortly after Mr. Bush sent troops into Iraq in March 2003 to disarm dictator Saddam Hussein. Prime Minister Jacques Chretien vehemently - and vocally - opposed the war.

Two months later, Mr. Bush canceled a trip to Canada. The same month, the president banned U.S. imports of live Canadian cattle after a case of mad cow disease was discovered in Alberta, a western province. The move has cost Canada more than $4 billion.

Unlike his predecessor, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has taken a softer line with the United States. He called Mr. Bush last month to congratulate him on his re-election and to invite him to Canada. As evidence that relations are warming, Mr. Bush accepted and showed up just three weeks later.

"I want to thank the Canadian people who came out to wave - with all five fingers - for the hospitality," he said, drawing laughter from 100 reporters gathered in a downtown government building for a brief press conference.

Although Mr. Martin said disagreements are natural with other nations - even neighbors - he avoided uttering even one word of dissent over the Iraq war.

"Obviously, there are disagreements on various questions of foreign policy," Mr. Martin said. "It is quite normal among countries to have this kind of disagreement. But we have common shared values, shared ambitions, and we share optimism also. I think that is what is fundamental."

The two leaders ribbed each other good-naturedly during the jovial press conference. Mr. Martin, who alternated between French and English, even picked up the president's joke about hand gestures, saying that when Mr. Bush and foreign leaders were in Chile this month for an economic summit, he found that "Spanish and English and French are three different languages, but that sign language is universal."

Still, Mr. Bush was not apologetic in the least about his decision to go to war in Iraq, which polls show 80 percent of Canadians oppose, or to enact a stern foreign policy, despite opposition from Canada and some European nations.

"It's a foreign policy that also understands that we've got an obligation to defend our security. I made some decisions, obviously, that some in Canada didn't agree with, like, for example, when we removed Saddam Hussein and enforcing the demands of the United Nations Security Council," Mr. Bush said.

"That's a legitimate point to debate. But I'm the kind of fellow who does what I think is right and will continue to do what I think is right. …