President Bush 'would like to show he accomplished something in North America.'
August 18, 2007
CanWest News Service
WASHINGTON -- Weighed down by an unpopular war in Iraq and declining political clout at home, U.S. President George W. Bush arrives at the Three Amigos summit in Canada on Monday with a slim agenda and little wind in his sails.
Still, U.S. analysts say, the two-day get-together with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts in the Quebec resort town of Montebello offers Bush a chance to show his presidency has not stalled, and that he is committed to enhancing trade and security in North America.
They also say Bush wants to be constructive, and will try not to do or say anything that could backfire on Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his minority government.
"President Bush is trying to demonstrate that he is engaged with allies, and engaged in international affairs and foreign policy outside of the prism of Iraq," said Scotty Greenwood, executive director of the Washington-based Canadian American Business Council. "He's trying to demonstrate that he's committed to getting it right in the neighbourhood."
Bush meets Monday and Tuesday with Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who, unlike Bush, will stay on for an extra day to spend private time with Harper at the prime minister's Harrington Lake retreat in Quebec's Gatineau Hills.
The summit agenda is loose, and holds the prospect of discussion on everything from the war in Afghanistan and upheaval in the Middle East to climate change and controversial new passport requirements for anyone travelling into the United States from Canada and elsewhere.
A major topic will be how to make the continent "safer and more prosperous," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters in Crawford, Texas, where Bush was relaxing before travelling to Canada.
He was referring to the Security and Prosperity Partnership, launched two years ago in 2005 in Waco, Texas. It involves negotiations among officials from the three countries on a package of regulatory reforms designed to improve the North American business climate and minimize border disruptions in the post-9-11 world.
Officials also are working on a continent-wide approach to managing flu pandemics and a co-ordinated emergency planning system, two issues about which the leaders could announce agreements at the summit.
The process, however, has been decried as overly secretive by critics in all three countries. And, after two years, it has little to show in terms of concrete results.
Chris Sands, a specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Bush, eyeing the history books, wants the three leaders to inject new life into the SPP process.
"For a lot of other people, it is just an acronym," Sands said, "but for him, he's invested time in this. It stands out as potentially the most significant new initiative of Bush's second term and it doesn't seem to be going anywhere."
Bush and Harper, who will have a private session Monday, also will talk about the state of affairs in Afghanistan, where both countries have combat troops on the ground.
Harper has already said the current Canadian mission will not be extended beyond February 2009 without parliamentary consensus.
The view from Washington is that Bush, who would undoubtedly prefer that Canada stay the course beyond 2009, will be extremely careful not to stir up trouble on the subject.
"The president's people are well aware of the difficulties Harper has on this," said David Biette, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Canada Institute in Washington. "I don't think he'd want to weigh in on that."
Sands agreed. "Obviously, Bush is not the most popular salesman in Canada," and he will be careful about anything he says about the wars in either Afghanistan or Iraq, he said.
"You hear this a lot from the Bush people and the White House," he said. "They want to support Harper. They know that he's got an election coming up sometime soon."
Sands said Bush, who leaves office in 17 months, wants to push the SPP forward because he is starting to think about his legacy, and would like something on foreign policy beyond his response to the 9-11 terror attacks and his execution of the war in Iraq.
"He would like to show he accomplished something in North America," Sands said.
Biette said progress hinges on making the SPP process more transparent.
"There is a part of the Canadian population that is suspicious of Harper and, of course, ever suspicious of President Bush, so that anything connected with the two of them must be evil. And Calderon is new."
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