TORONTO – After initially balking at unilateral action against Saddam Hussein, Canada is now expressing full support for the kind of tough U.N. resolution the United States is seeking on Iraq.
The pro-U.S. position reflects the country's historic ties and economic interdependence with its North American neighbor, as well as a traditional Canadian preference for a multilateral approach through international organizations like the United Nations.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien had said as recently as two weeks ago that Canada would oppose a unilateral U.S. military strike on Baghdad. But he welcomed President Bush's appeal for U.N. involvement and claimed it as a victory for Canadian ideals.
The United States wants the U.N. Security Council to approve a resolution authorizing force against Iraq if it fails to comply with weapons inspections again. The wording is still being worked out, but France has said it won't approve a resolution that gives the United States "a green light" to strike.
Chretien said he pushed President Bush during a Sept. 9 meeting in Detroit to work through the United Nations instead of going it alone.
"He went as we wanted him to do, to include the U.N.," Chretien said Tuesday about Bush's appeal to the world body three days after their Detroit meeting.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham also called for a U.N. resolution with "no wiggle room to fool around, or action will be taken."
"We can certainly endorse the United States position that there has to be clear consequences for a failure to act," he said.
While neither Graham nor Chretien committed to supporting a military campaign, Canada is considered a likely backer once the U.N. process has played out.
Canada readily joined the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, sending soldiers, ships and planes.
The Canadian commitment has cooled after four Canadian soldiers were killed in an accidental bombing by a U.S. jet fighter in April, as well as Washington's continued hard-line stance on trade disputes, despite the Canadian support in Afghanistan. Canada failed to replace 800 soldiers once their six-month mission in Afghanistan ended in August, but continues to send support ships and special forces fighters.
In the end, analysts say, the historic ties between the nations and their trade partnership -- the world's largest, worth more than $1 billion a day -- make Canadian support virtually inevitable.
"Canadian people are good friends with the American people, no matter how the politicians get along," said Chris Sands of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, a foreign policy think tank.
An example of Canadian compliance came in recent weeks when it announced Saudi and Malaysian citizens would now be required to obtain visas to enter the country.
The government said the reason was potential fraud involving passports from those countries, but the change also brought Canada's visa policies in line with those of the United States.
Canadian public opinion on a war in Iraq is divided. While conservative parties and newspapers call for a strong stand against Saddam, a group of more than 100 mostly left-leaning Canadians issued a statement Wednesday urging the Canadians "do everything in their power to oppose military action against Iraq."
"We are united in the belief that a military attack on Iraq at this juncture would be profoundly immoral, and would almost certainly result in destabilizing repercussions that would endanger the whole world," the group said.
Most Canadians would accept a war on Iraq if Saddam refuses to comply with U.N. demands for unconditional weapons inspections, said David Dewitt, a political science professor at York University in Toronto.
"If you have to go to war, make it under a multilateral umbrella," Dewitt said of Canadian thinking.
Sands noted that having Canada as a coalition partner helps the United States more politically than militarily. Canada cut military spending by 23 percent in the 1990s, leaving it unable to send significant forces beyond the 4,000 peacekeepers it has in U.N. missions around the world.
Instead, the Canadian reputation for more equitable foreign relations than its southern neighbor is valuable, Sands said. For example, Canada has diplomatic ties with Cuba despite the U.S. embargo against the communist country.
"If the Canadians stand up, there is some sense that maybe this isn't just a war for oil, that it has some other purpose," he said.