Obama Denies Assuring Canada on NAFTA

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By NEDRA PICKLER
The Associated Press
Monday, March 3, 2008; 6:47 PM

SAN ANTONIO -- Barack Obama said Monday that his campaign never gave Canada back-channel assurances that his harsh words about the North American Free Trade Agreement were for political show _ despite the disclosure of a Canadian memo indicating otherwise.

According to the memo obtained by The Associated Press, Obama's senior economic adviser told Canadian officials in Chicago that the debate over free trade in the Democratic presidential primary campaign was "political positioning" and that Obama was not really protectionist.

The adviser, Austan Goolsbee, said his comments to those officials were misinterpreted by the author, Joseph DeMora, who works for the Canadian consulate in Chicago and attended the meeting.

In Carrollton, Texas, Obama told reporters: "Nobody reached out to the Canadians to try to assure them of anything."

Asked why he had appeared to deny a report last week that such a meeting had taken place, Obama said: "That was the information I had at the time."

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Stephen Harper disputed the contention of his political opposition that Canadian officials leaked word of the meeting to complicate Obama's chances or to favor Republican Sen. John McCain, who strongly supports NAFTA.

Harper told Parliament he was amused by the suggestion "we are so all powerful that we could interfere in the American election and pick their president for them. This government doesn't claim that kind of power. I certainly deny any allegation that this government has attempted to interfere in the American election."

Harper said he has watched the U.S. campaign closely and believes all leading candidates from both parties _ Obama, McCain and Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton _ "would continue the strong friendship and partnership that Canada and the United States enjoys."

The original report by CTV in Canada suggested an Obama emissary had reached out to officials at the Canadian Embassy in Washington. Embassy officials artfully denied any such contact had been made with them.

As it turned out, the meeting took place in Chicago instead, with Canadian Consul General Georges Rioux and DeMora taking notes.

Obama said that one of his advisers had been invited by someone at the consulate to visit and discuss trade.

"The Canadian Embassy confirmed that he said everything I said on the campaign trail," Obama asserted.


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© 2008 The Associated Press