Thursday, April 13, 2006

mackay's new sleeping arrangements, move over george ...

MacKay praises U.S. counterpart Rice as they establish 'personal rapport'
April 13, 2006

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay was so appreciative after his first visit Thursday with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that he nearly ran out of superlatives.

I'm delighted to be here. I've always been a fan of yours, he told Rice at a joint news conference in an ornate department ballroom. And much of our discussion today confirmed what I already knew about you from having followed your career.

We're very grateful and I personally extend my thanks to you for your generous and very kind invitation to be with you, he said as Rice smiled politely.

MacKay made the comments after a working lunch where the two discussed world hot spots, including Iran and Sudan, and touched on a looming border security deadline that threatens to disrupt cross-border travel.

The meeting, said MacKay, allowed the two to establish a personal rapport indicative of the historic relationship. He noted Rice's warmth, her intelligence on so many of these issues in which Canada has a deep and abiding interest.

And despite the fact that Rice gave no ground on a U.S. security law requiring passports or another secure document from people entering the United States by the end of next year, MacKay said he was encouraged by their discussion.

He took a dig at the Liberals in the process, blaming them for not doing enough to address the issue before they lost the January election.

We, I believe, have established a much better line of communication, he said.

Without sounding partisan, the previous government, perhaps, could have done more to engage at an earlier stage.

We now have an opportunity, I believe, to ensure that we will lesson the impact of any changes around passport requirements. We did talk about some of the various ways in which we can do that.

Days earlier, MacKay said in Ottawa he thought the initiative could be reversed or slowed down.

We're going to uphold the law, said Rice, who acknowledged anxiety that the plan would slow tourism and commerce. She said Canada would have input into a new high-technology card the State Department is developing.

It would be used instead of a passport to comply with legislation Congress passed in 2004.

We're looking for something that's inexpensive, something that is not so hard to get but that is nonetheless secure.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day is scheduled to talk about the details late Tuesday with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

MacKay was in lockstep with Rice on global concerns too, saying it may be necessary to impose sanctions against Iran.

Rice is calling for the United Nations Security Council to take stronger measures in the face of Iran's plans to expand its nuclear capability, saying there will have to be some consequence for the country's defiance.

We do support the international need to respond with one voice, the need to demonstrate to Iran that we very clearly want them to comply upon pain of sanctions, said MacKay.

I think the important message is that there will be progressive response and progressive consequences. I don't believe we want to take any drastic steps that would destabilize the very volatile situation right now but I do believe its necessary to start weighing all of these options.

Said Rice: I find nothing with which to disagree.

There is no doubt that Iran continues to defy the will of the international community . . . Iran has continued salami-slicing tactics, a little bit here and then a little bit more, and then a little bit more, despite the fact that the international community has said very clearly: 'Stop.'Â

Rice and MacKay also agreed there's an urgent need for international action in the Darfur region of Sudan as the United Nations gets ready to release an action plan for the west African country later this month.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said Canada is considering whether to move beyond an advisory role there.

Canada has lent Sudan about 100 armoured vehicles with some 50 soldiers in support roles.

Asked if Canada was prepared to send combat troops, MacKay said there's been no request yet.

In the longer term, I don't think anybody can say with certainty what the UN force is going to look like.