Bush Thanks Canadians for Helping After 9/11
HALIFAX – President Bush on Wednesday offered a thank you and an olive branch to Canadians who helped Americans after Sept. 11, 2001, but were not pleased with the U.S. decision to attack Iraq.
"I am honored to be with you today to reaffirm America's enduring ties to your country," Bush said, receiving a warm round of applause. "I am really glad to be in Canada and I am really glad to be around friends."
Bush said he looks forward to a "successful working partnership between our two countries" as he heads into a second term.
The president was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the bulk of the more than 200 planes that were shut out of the United States after the terror attacks were forced to land. Many individual homeowners agreed to house stranded travelers. About 33,000 Americans were left accepting their hospitality, unable to get home.
"On September the 11th, 2001, more than 200 commercial planes were diverted to airports across our country, from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Immediately, Canadians opened their homes and their hearts. Three days later, on September the 14th, 100,000 Canadians spontaneously gathered on Parliament Hill in what was and is the largest vigil ever seen in our capital," Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin (search) said during a dinner with the president on Tuesday.
In addition, some planes flying to the United States from Asia were diverted to western Canada, and the people of British Columbia also opened their homes.
"For days after Sept. 11, Canadians came to the aid of men and women and children who were worried and confused and had nowhere to sleep. You opened your homes and your churches to strangers. You offered food, set up clinics … and asked for nothing in return," Bush said Wednesday.
"How does a person say 'thank you' to a nation? Well, that's something a president can do. So let me say directly to the Canadian people and all of you today who welcomed Americans: Thank you for your kindness to America in an hour of need."
The president went on to say that the emergency revealed the true "heart and generous good" of a community and showed the "true feelings" between Canadians and Americans.
"The affection that appeared in an instant will always be there and it runs deep," Bush said. "Beyond the worlds of politicians and natural disagreements that nations will have, our two people are one family and always will be."
Administration officials say Bush is discussing with Canadian citizens the common values that unite the two countries, border security, efforts to spread democracy elsewhere and how Canada and the United States are allies in the War on Terror. Bush has been trying to elicit Canada's participation in the new U.S. continental missile defense program, which the Canadians have not yet agreed to join.
Bush's speech Wednesday took place on Pier 21 in Halifax, which is like New York's Ellis Island, an entry point for immigrants. The pier closed to immigrants in 1971 and was reopened as a museum in 1999.
Air Force One had to be de-iced Wednesday morning in the snowy capital of Ottawa before the president could get to his destination. The president stayed the night in Ottawa after spending the day with Martin on Tuesday.
Canadians woke up Wednesday to newspaper articles cheering the camaraderie between Martin and Bush. While Canada supported sending troops to Afghanistan in 2001, Bush and former Prime Minister Jean Chretien (search) had such a bad relationship that Bush canceled a state visit to the northern neighbor after Chretien refused to support the war in Iraq.
This is Bush's first state visit to Canada. Talks between Bush and Martin focused on tightening the borders to drugs and terrorists, while keeping them open to tourists and trade.
"Canadians and Americans benefit from the free movement of people and commerce across the world's longest unfortified border. Yet, we must work to ensure that our ports of entry are closed to terrorists and criminals and deadly weapons," he said.
The fence-mending mission to Canada does not mean that Canada has come around on Iraq. Bush made it clear on Tuesday that despite difference of opinion between the two nations on the war, he stands by his foreign policy decisions.
"I made some decisions, obviously, that some in Canada didn't agree with, like, for example, removing Saddam Hussein and enforcing the demands of the United Nations Security Council," Bush said during a press briefing with Martin. "I'm the kind of fellow who does what I think is right, and will continue to do what I think is right. I'll consult with our friends and neighbors, but if I think it's right to remove Saddam Hussein for the security of the United States, that's the course of action I'll take."
Eighty percent of Canadians support Canadian abstention from the war in Iraq. Thousands protested Bush's visit on Tuesday.
"We don't always agree, and we won't always agree," Martin said, acknowledging Bush's unpopularity in Canada. "But there is a spirit of renewal in the relationship between our two countries."
Bush took his unpopularity in stride.
"I want to thank the Canadian people who came out to wave, with all five fingers," Bush joked with reporters, referring to disapproving sign language that is universal in North America.
FOX News' Wendell Goler and Molly Henneberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.