The hug said it all. Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan had just completed vigorous discussions on the subjects of arctic sovereignty and acid rain. But when reporters demanded to know whether any agreement had been reached, the President stopped, flashed his trademark grin and replied: “Let me demonstrate.” He then threw an arm around the Prime Minister’s shoulder, gave him a paternal squeeze and the two walked down a parliamentary corridor, chatting like football teammates. In fact, while last week’s Canada-U.S. summit in Ottawa produced no concrete agreements, it did allow the two leaders to engage in some reciprocal support aimed at restoring their political credibility.
Handshakes and hugs tended to characterize the third annual Mulroney-Reagan summit far more than did progress on the key areas of discussion-acid rain, arctic sovereignty and free trade. During the President’s 25-hour visit, Reagan did promise “to consider” Mulroney’s proposal for drafting a joint treaty on reducing acid rain. The President also vowed to lend new impetus to the strained negotiations over Canada’s claim of sovereignty over the Northwest Passage in the Arctic. And he gave a ringing endorsement to the free trade talks between the two countries.
Allan Gotlieb, Canada’s ambassador to Washington, joined American officials in calling the summit a success. Said Gotlieb, quoting former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger: “In foreign policy there are no breakthroughs; there are only nuances. And we had some different and better nuances today.” Thomas Niles, the American ambassador to Ottawa, said that he too was pleased with Reagan’s visit.
But Niles added: “I wouldn’t necessarily see the progress that was made as being one of U.S. concessions.”
Reagan, in fact, yielded nothing. But he did reap generally favorable publicity domestically, partially because of the careful planning. After one strategy meeting several weeks ago, a Mulroney aide said: “Both sides recognized we each needed a successful summit.” Reagan had spent, a long and painful winter marred by personal illness and political scandals. Mulroney had faced his own scandals and declining popularity in the polls.
In the end, both got what they wanted. American television newscasts depicted the President as a hardworking international statesman, firmly in control of policy. Even Liberal Leader John Turner, who had his own 25-minute meeting with Reagan, described the 76-year-old President as “up to speed and in control.” Mulroney also benefited. Reagan’s statements on acid rain and arctic sovereignty left the impression that the Prime Minister had won some small victories. Declared Mulroney: “Canadians recognize that some progress is better than going backwards.”
Canadian officials, particularly, claimed progress on the acid rain issue. Reagan, for the first time, acknowledged that half of the acid rain falling in Eastern Canada originates from air pollutants generated in the United States. And, in an eleventhhour addition to his speech to a joint session of the Senate and Commons, the President agreed with Mulroney’s request “to consider” a bilateral treaty on emission controls that would reduce acid rain on both sides of the border. The next day, however, Reagan spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that the U.S. commitment was to consider an accord, not necessarily to develop one.
Indeed, some U.S. congressmen said that Ottawa was too quick to embrace Reagan’s concession. Said Philip Schiliro, administrative assistant to Democratic Congressman Henry A. Waxman of California: “Doesn’t the Prime Minister realize that Reagan isn’t going to do anything? He should have expressed strong disappointment.” Next month, Waxman will introduce a bill calling for reductions of 10 to 12 million tons of
pollutants a year. Said Schiliro: “It takes 218 votes to get a bill passed and we have about 180. By accepting Reagan’s promise to consider an accord, Mulroney is working against us.”
The ambiguous signals on acid rain were also flashed on arctic sovereignty. Canada wants the United States to recognize the Northwest Passage as a Canadian, not an international, waterway. Under strong pressure, Reagan added another last-minute sentence to his parliamentary address, agreeing to give new impetus to negotiations on the issue. Said Reagan: “We are determined to find a solution based on mutual respect for sovereignty and our common security and other interests.”
Only two weeks ago, Mulroney and Reagan had exchanged sharply worded letters on the arctic issue. The Prime Minister had even threatened to go to the World Court in The Hague if the United States ever again sent one of its Coast Guard icebreakers through the Northwest Passage without Ottawa’s permission, as it did in 1985. At the summit, it took repeated requests by Mulroney—at one point he used his office globe to give Reagan a geography lesson—to elicit the President’s vague undertaking on the issue.
There was smoother sailing on trade issues. Despite irritants, the free trade negotiations are on schedule, with a draft accord expected by the fall. Reagan used the summit to endorse the talks, comparing them to the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after the Second World War and expressing optimism that an agreement will be concluded this year. During a state dinner at Rideau Hall, the residence of Governor General Jeanne Sauvé, the President called the free trade initiative “bold and farsighted,” and he said that he looked forward to the day when California wines would be available without tax across Canada, “just as Molson’s ale is available to every American table.”
The summit brought out a usual quota of protesters, demonstrating against everything from free trade to American military involvement in Central America. But the demonstrators, more festive than angry, were usually out of Reagan’s line of vision. Indeed, as planned, there were few sour notes in Ottawa. Despite the lack of specific agreements, the tone was upbeat, as two allies celebrated their similarities and papered over their conflicts. Reagan acknowledged that the two countries have differences. “But,” he added in a bilingual turn of phrase, “we are always able to work them out, entre amis.” Still, it seemed doubtful that by the time the two leaders meet again next year, any of the major issues will have been resolved.□
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