Border Security, Immigration, Terrorism Dominate Trilateral Talks

Friday, February 23rd 2007, 10:17 pm
By: News On 6

OTTAWA (AP) _ Promoting prosperity topped the agenda at a gathering of U.S., Canadian and Mexican Cabinet leaders Friday, but immigration and the threat of terrorism also were key topics at the gathering.

Nine foreign and security ministers from the North American nations met in Ottawa, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

The Security and Prosperity Partnership talks were a lead-up to a meeting of the countries' leaders this August in Canada.

The officials reviewed a 63-page report from the North American Competitiveness Council on how to streamline border crossings, harmonize regulatory standards and improve the supply and distribution of clean energy sources. They also discussed ways in which to deal with a global bird flu pandemic, natural disasters, organized crime and drug trafficking.

After a full day of closed-door meetings, the officials addressed joint news conferences and discussed security, illegal immigration and terrorism.

Rice was asked if she discussed the sensitive case of Canadian engineer Maher Arar with her Canadian counterpart, Foreign Minister Peter MacKay.

Canada and the United States are at odds over the treatment of Syrian-born Arar, who was secretly sent by the U.S. to Damascus for interrogation about links to terrorism. Though later cleared by Canada, Washington refuses to comply with Canadian demands that Arar be removed from its no-fly lists.

``Well, we respect the decision of the Canadian government concerning Mr. Arar,'' Rice responded. ``The United States, of course, makes decisions based on information that we have and based on our own assessment of the situation.''

MacKay said the two sides, at this point, ``agree to disagree.''

The United States, Canada and Mexico, under the North American Free Trade Agreement, enjoy the largest trading partnership in the world.

Some critics believe the Bush administration has put too great an emphasis on border security and not enough on the economic alliance. A Mexican journalist told Rice that this was the growing perception in his country.

``I think that if you look at everything from NAFTA on, including our extensive trade relationships, our extensive economic relationships, you can see that the United States and Mexico have been deeply concerned about one another's prosperity,'' she said. ``But as the president has said, ultimately when one talks, for instance, about the issues of immigration, we want very much to see a Mexico in which Mexicans can find work and can take care of their families in Mexico.''

Mexico's Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa said newly elected Mexican President Felipe Calderon was approaching his first 100 days in office.

``I would like to say that the issues dealt with in this meeting coincide fully with the priorities that the president of the republic established as the objectives of his mandate,'' said Espinosa.

Chertoff was full of praise for the new Mexican president.

``I have to say it's very, very inspiring to see how vigorously President Calderon has moved, even in his brief term in office, to assert security controls when there are violations of the law,'' Chertoff said.