OTTAWA – President Bush (search) and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin (search) 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," Bush said in the Canadian capital, with Martin at his side at a joint news conference.
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. 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.
Bush said that Martin had expressed "a great deal of frustration" that the issue hadn't been resolved. He said he sympathized with the prime minister's position. "We're working as quickly as we can," Bush said.
The president welcomed Iran's assertion that it was moving away from uranium enrichment that could be used in assembling nuclear weapons. 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.
Bush's visit, his first trip outside the country since the election, was viewed as an initial outreach to longtime allies estranged by the president's decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
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.
Bush's unpopularity in Canada was reflected in demonstrations opposing the war in Iraq. Some of the several hundred protesters were polite. "Please leave," read one sign along Bush's highly secured motorcade route. But others near the Parliament building where Bush and Martin met at midday held placards that branded Bush an "assassin." A truck parked near the motorcade route was emblazoned with the phrase "Bush is a war criminal."
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."
In addition to straining relations with Europe, the war put the Bush administration at odds with both Canada and Mexico.
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.
Bush had a cool relationship with former Prime Minister Jean Chretien (search), but Martin, in office less than a year, has sought to repair the damage.
"Under Chretien, relations were terrible," John Hulsman, research fellow in foreign policy at Heritage Foundation, said of the former prime minister whose aide called Bush a "moron" in November 2002. "It got so bad that in the Parliament one time they forgot to turn the mikes off and someone was calling Bush a bastard."
Sidestepping Canada's opposition to the war in Iraq, Bush praised Canada's contribution of what he said was $200 million in humanitarian aide to postwar Iraq.
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, 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."
Bush was asked about a pressing issue at home, the stalled bill to reshape the nation's intelligence community and create a national intelligence director.
Bush rejected claims that he has not put his weight behind the bill, saying he has spoken with the two congressmen leading the opposition, Duncan Hunter and James Sensenbrenner. He said he plans to talk with his party's House and Senate leaders about the matter by week's end.
"I want a bill," Bush said. "Let's see if I can say it as plainly as I can: I am for the intelligence bill."
Bush will not make a customary speech at the House of Commons in Ottawa where the sometimes raucous Parliament has been known to heckle speakers.
On trade issues, the two nations continue to fight over a tariff the United States has placed on imports of pine, spruce and other easy-to-saw softwood lumber logged in Canada. On average, the United States adds an extra 27 cents to every $1 worth of softwood lumber imported from four Canadian provinces.
U.S. officials accuse Canada of subsidizing the lumber business, saying it does not charge companies large enough to log on public lands. Canada is challenging the tariff through international trade organizations. The World Trade Organization (search) has sided with Canada in a series of preliminary rulings, but the dispute is far from over.
The United States and Canada are working jointly on environmental issues as well as health and safety standards and regulations that won't slow down trade and economic exchange across North America, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.