U.S., Mexico, Canada discuss border security

MONTEBELLO, Canada – Security issues highlighted the North American summit Monday where President Bush and the leaders of Mexico and Canada are crafting a plan to secure their borders in case of a terrorist strike or other emergency.

Bush, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper want to find a way to protect citizens in an emergency – perhaps an outbreak of avian flu or a natural disaster – without the tie-ups that slowed commerce after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Calderon will cut short his trip to return home to manage his own natural disaster: Hurricane Dean is bearing down on the Yucatan Peninsula. Maurico Guerrero, a spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Canada, said Calderon will attend all the events today at the summit, but his schedule has been streamlined and he will no longer stay another day, as planned.

The three leaders are also seeking middle ground on issues ranging from energy to trade, food safety to immigration. Few, if any, formal announcements are expected at the meeting at a highly secured red cedar chateau along the banks of the Ottawa River.

The meeting is also designed to bolster a compact – dubbed the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America – that serves as a way for the nations to team up on health, commerce and emergency preparedness.

“The focus over the last year has been on developing a plan on how the three countries can deal with the circumstances of avian influenza,” said Dan Fisk, a National Security Council official who briefed reporters.

“But building on that, we hope to have a larger discussion among the three countries – on a continental basis – about how are we prepared to deal generally with an emergency.”

Several hundred demonstrators protested on issues such as the war in Iraq, human rights and integration of North America. One carried a banner that said, “Say No To Americanada.”

Calderon and Harper both want tight relations with Bush, yet don’t want to be seen as proteges of the unpopular president or leave the impression that the U.S. is encroaching on their sovereignty.

To that end, Harper used the meeting to assert his nation’s claim to the Northwest Passage through the Arctic.

The race to secure subsurface rights to the Arctic seabed heated up when Russia sent two small submarines to plant a tiny national flag under the North Pole.

The United States and Norway also have competing claims in the vast Arctic region, where a U.S. study suggests as much as 25 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas could be hidden.

Canada believes much of the North American side of the Arctic is Canada’s, but the United States says the thawing Northwest Passage is part of international waters.

“The president came away with a far better understanding of Canada’s position,” Fisk said. “However, I will note that from the U.S. position, we continue to believe that the Northwest Passage is an international waterway.”

About 2,000 demonstrators descended on the town between Montreal and Ottawa.

About 300 lingered directly in front of the resort compound’s main gate.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police confirmed that tear gas was used against several dozen protesters who threw rocks, branches and plastic bottles.

“I’ve heard it’s nothing,” Harper said, dismissing the protests as Bush arrived at the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello.

“A couple hundred? It’s sad.”

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