CANADA

SAVORING VICTORIES

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH VISITS OTTAWA TO PRAISE A STAUNCH GULF WAR ALLY AND SIGN AN ACID-RAIN PACT

GLEN ALLEN March 25 1991
CANADA

SAVORING VICTORIES

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH VISITS OTTAWA TO PRAISE A STAUNCH GULF WAR ALLY AND SIGN AN ACID-RAIN PACT

GLEN ALLEN March 25 1991

SAVORING VICTORIES

CANADA

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH VISITS OTTAWA TO PRAISE A STAUNCH GULF WAR ALLY AND SIGN AN ACID-RAIN PACT

The visitor from Washington, fresh from a resounding victory in a foreign war, had the highest popularapproval ratings in his country’s history. His host, leader of a nation racked by the forces of disunity and battling a recession, enjoyed the poll support of about one-fifth of his people. But last week when President George Bush paid a 17-hour visit to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, it was largely a celebration of friendship and common cause rather than an exploration of political fortunes. In fact, at an Ottawa news conference, a high-spirited Mulroney even joked about the 70-percentagepoint gap in popular standings. “Because of our close relationship, and because this is a special day,” said Mulroney, “I know that the President will want to pool his ratings with mine. We can then, George, divide by two—and we both come out ahead.”

However low Mulroney stands in domestic polls, it was clear that his neighbor held him— and Canadians—in high esteem. The visit marked the beginning of the American President’s first foreign trip since the Gulf War ended last month. And according to many U.S. political analysts, Bush demonstrated what University of Maine at Orono political scientist Howard Cody called “a good deal of confidence in his ally” by first travelling to Canada before meetings later in the week with French President François Mitterrand and British Prime Minister John Major. In fact, the talks ventured far beyond mutual tribute as the two leaders signed an accord to limit acid rain—an agreement that Canada has long sought. Along with

their advisers, Bush and Mulroney also discussed the possibility of peace in the Middle East, the political climate in the Soviet Union, Canadian unity, free trade—and a Feb.

8 call by Mulroney for an international summit to control the proliferation of arms.

Bush heaped praise on Canada, saying that he had been continually in touch with Mulroney (“I’m sure it seemed to him endlessly”) during the Gulf crisis. Declared Bush: “The American people knew from Day 1 where Canada stood. We are very, very grateful for that.” For his part, Mulroney spoke of Bush’s “wise, confident leadership,” and he said “the name George Bush will live proudly in the history of free men and women.”

On the issue of weapons sales to the troubled region, Bush, who has previously been cool to any reductions in arms sales, offered no endorsement of Mulroney’s proposal. “It’s a little

early,” he said. Added the U.S. President: “I’m not sure what the proper structure is.”

Apart from that slight note of disharmony— and the presence of a small crowd of anti-U.S. demonstrators—Bush’s visit proceeded flawlessly. The signing of the acid-rain accord was the centrepiece of the visit. Canada and the United States have been wrangling since 1979 over sulphur dioxide pollution, much of it origi-

nating in the United States, that has damaged as many as 16,000 Canadian lakes. The cleanair agreement signed last week commits both nations to halve 1980 emissions levels of sulphur dioxide—the United States by the year 2000, and Canada by 1994. It also leaves room for addressing other common air-pollution problems. Declared Mulroney: “Air quality will never be taken for granted again.” Added Bush: “The treaty that we sign today is testimony to the seriousness with which both our countries regard this critical environmental issue.”

Critics, however, said that any celebration was premature. For one thing, they pointed out that the accord is not enshrined in legislation and lacks enforcement and monitoring measures. Liberal environment critic Paul Martin charged in the Commons that the signing of the agreement was of little value, “other than a photo op for a couple of Tories.”

Beyond the public ceremony, the two men met privately for more than three hours. The Middle East dominated those private talks. External Affairs Minister Joe Clark, who had just returned from a fact-finding tour of the region, briefed the two leaders on his talks with Iranian, Israeli and Arab leaders. Said one senior Canadian spokesman: “The dominant message we were conveying was that there is an opportunity for movement in the Middle East on the fundamental political issues at stake. We believe that there is an opportunity for the Americans to exercise leadership.”

Mulroney had clearly hoped that such leadership would extend to efforts to place curbs on the international arms trade. In a speech last month, he called for a summit of world leaders to debate means to end the proliferation of weapons. The defence spending of most NATO countries represents no more than five per cent of their gross domestic product. But Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Israel all commit between 10 and 25 per cent of their GDPs to weapons. During Bush’s visit, Mulroney followed up on that theme, noting that 95 per cent of Iraq’s weapons had been sold to it by members of the UN Security Council—including the United States. “This just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” said Mulroney during a news conference.

But Bush declined to support Mulroney’s proposal for a summit. And the Prime Minister’s statements clearly irritated members of Bush’s entourage, especially former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, now the President’s chief of staff, who rolled his eyes during Mulroney’s comments.

Still, Bush appeared to be prepared to support Mulroney on Canadian unity. Pointing out that the United States is Canada’s “biggest trading partner,” the President declared: “We are very happy with one unified Canada that has been friendly, been allies, staunch allies. And when you have the unknown, you’ve got to ask yourself questions.” Indeed, according to some U.S. analysts, Canadian disunity is a subject of considerable concern to Washington. Said Frederick Menz of Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., an expert on Canada-U.S. relations: “From the standpoint of the complexity of managing the relationship, a separate Quebec would be a problem.”

Bush and Mulroney apparently did not talk in detail about one subject that concerns many Canadians—the current negotiations for a free trade pact linking Canada, the United States and Mexico. Their brief public remarks concerning a trilateral agreement were upbeat. Mulroney said that the arrangement will “make North America the largest and richest trading bloc in the world.” Acknowledging that attention is currently focused on events in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, Bush added: “It is very important that we not lose sight of this hemisphere.” With his brief but cordial trip to Ottawa, the congenial visitor from Washington indicated that he is willing to take his own advice.

GLEN ALLEN in Ottawa