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Bush Mends Fences In Canada

U.S. President George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin sought on Tuesday to mend fences after four years of strained relations between the two neighbors aggravated by the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

"I made some decisions that some in Canada obviously didn't agree with," Bush said. "I'm the kind of fellow who does what I think is right," he said in the Canadian capital, with Martin at his side.

For his part, Martin said, "There are obviously disagreements on questions of foreign policy," as well as differences on trade, including such issues as softwood lumber and the U.S. ban on Canadian beef.

While they disagreed on Iraq, the two leaders voiced common ground on their hope for a peaceful resolution to the political turmoil in Ukraine from last week's disputed national election. They called mutually for dialogue between the two sides there.

"Hopefully this issue will be solved quickly and the will of the people will be known," Bush said.

On another international issue, Bush welcomed Iran's assertion that it was moving away from uranium enrichment that could be used in assembling nuclear weapons, but expressed disappointment that Iran had only agreed to suspend their program, not terminate it as the United States wants. He called it "a positive step, but it is certainly not the final step." Iran said it would suspend processing, at least for several months.

The two leaders said they had failed to resolve the impasse over a U.S. ban on imported Canadian beef because of mad cow disease that infected some Canadian cattle.

"I hope we can get this issue solved as quickly as possible. There's a bureaucracy involved," Bush said, noting a study his administration has under way to ease the 18-month-old ban.

Bush said that Martin had expressed "a great deal of frustration" that the issue hadn't been resolved and that he sympathized with the prime minister's position. "We're working as quickly as we can," the president said.

When asked about polls showing that Bush was unpopular in Canada, the president responded: "I haven't seen the polls you look at."

"We just had a poll in our country where people decided that the foreign policy of the Bush administration ought to stay in place for four more years," Bush said, referring to his victory in the U.S. presidential election earlier this month.

The president received a chilly welcome from protesters holding up placards along his motorcade route into the city, including some signs that branded him a "war criminal" and "assassin."

Much the anger seemed focused on Bush's decision to invade Iraq. Canada decided against sending troops to Iraq — a decision supported by more than 80 percent of Canadians.

"Canada is not against America. We're totally against Bush," explained Fredric White, a 40-year-old protester who works for an entertainment company.

"He's arrogant and ignorant. We totally disdain his policies on the war and his treatment of the U.N.," White said. "The administration has an imperialist attitude where he thinks he can take over countries by bombing them."

Chanting slogans and holding banners, several thousand protesters marched to the Parliament buildings Tuesday afternoon, where they held an anti-Bush rally. Protest organizers said the march drew at least 13,000 people, but police put the figure at closer to 5,000.

Bush said the reception he had gotten as his motorcade came into town from the airport "was very warm and hospitable."

"And I want to thank the Canadian people who came out to wave, with all five fingers," Bush said, drawing laughter with his clear reference to the familiar one-finger salute he often receives from protesters.

Laughing, Martin noted that despite languages spoken in the hemisphere, "that sign language is universal."

Bush's visit, his first trip outside the country since the election, was viewed as an initial outreach to longtime allies estranged by his decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

In addition to straining relations with Europe, the war put the Bush administration at odds with both Canada and Mexico.

Bush had a cool relationship with former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, but Martin, in office less than a year, has sought to repair the damage.

Bush, sidestepping Canada's opposition to the war in Iraq, praised Canada's contribution of what he said was $200 million in humanitarian aide to postwar Iraq and its decision to forgive Iraq $450 million in debt it owed Canada.

He said the two countries "share a commitment to freedom and a willingness to defend it in times of peril."

"Today we're standing together against the forces of terror," Bush said, also recognizing Canada's peacekeeping role in Afghanistan.

Martin, who alternated between French and English, said he and Bush "agreed to put forward an agenda where our two nations will cooperate in a practical way toward common goals."