North American Summit Convenes

By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 21, 2007

MONTEBELLO, Canada, Aug. 20 -- President Bush met Monday with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, starting a two-day summit aimed at solidifying security and economic ties among the North American allies.

The meetings, being held at a luxury resort between Montreal and Ottawa, are focused on problems that have cropped up as the countries have lowered trade barriers while also moving to tighten border security.

With the three nations sharing $2.4 billion a day in trade, the discussions are aimed at ensuring that trade remains both bustling and "safe," said Daniel W. Fisk, the National Security Council's senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Monday's discussions focused largely on bilateral issues, with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper using his meeting with Bush to reiterate concern about impending rules that would require people who drive across the U.S.-Canada border to have passports, according to U.S. and Canadian officials.

The requirement, already in effect for air travelers, has resulted in long backlogs in issuing new passports in both countries. It is slated to expand to ground travel next year and could sharply cut the number of American visits to Canada.

Congress has moved to delay implementation of the rules until mid-2009, but so far the Department of Homeland Security has not shifted the date.

Harper also sought Bush's help with Canada's effort to assert sovereignty over parts of the contested Arctic region. Earlier this month, a Russian expedition placed the Russian flag on the ocean floor near the North Pole. Bush administration officials, however, have differed with Canadian counterparts, saying they consider the Northwest Passage, a key Arctic waterway between Canadian islands, to be international waters.

Harper explained to Bush that the mission of Canadian troops in Afghanistan would have to be reexamined by Parliament by February 2009. Fisk said Bush better understood the Canadian "dynamic" after the meeting.

During the session with President Felipe Calderón of Mexico, Bush discussed the threat posed by Hurricane Dean, which late Monday was bearing down on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. The two leaders also discussed Mexico's drug trade, which has caused Calderón to deploy thousands of federal troops and police in an attempt to quell violence.

While U.S. officials applauded Calderón's "courage" in fighting powerful drug cartels, Fisk said he expected that no U.S. aid package for combating drugs would be announced at the summit.

The two governments have been discussing such an initiative.

The two leaders also discussed immigration in the wake of Bush's failed effort to revamp U.S. laws to stem illegal immigration and create an orderly and legal flow of low-skill workers from Mexico to the United States.

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