WASHINGTON -- Deputy Prime Minister John Manley says Canada and the U.S. are close to agreement on controversial portions of the 30-point "smart border" program put together after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and expects the complete package to be ready before the G8 summit in Alberta in June.
"There are no more red light issues," Mr. Manley said after four hours of meetings with U.S. Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge. "There are still some yellows. We've moved a few of those to green so everything is essentially on schedule or ahead of schedule."
Two of the main points of contention have been a Canadian plan for companies that regularly truck cargo across the border to be "pre-cleared" and American concerns about whether their customs officers could carry guns while stationed in Canada.
No details were provided on how those issues had progressed, but Mr. Manley said that "as of this morning, we don't see any insurmountable problems."
Three new border initiatives were announced yesterday. The pre-clearance of American-bound passengers by U.S. customs and immigration officials at Vancouver's international airport has been re-opened, the go-ahead has been given to expand the Nexus fast-track border-crossing for frequent travellers at three crossings in British Columbia, and it was agreed that both Canadian and American customs officials would work on inspection of cargo and containers in five major ports: Vancouver, Montreal, Halifax, Seattle and Newark, New Jersey.
The Nexus program, which takes its name from the Latin for bridge, is currently in effect between Sarnia and Port Huron, Michigan. It will be expanded this summer to include two crossings south of Vancouver (Pacific Highway and Douglas) with Blaine, Washington, as well as Boundary Bay, B.C., and Point Roberts, Washington.
Customs officials will soon start taking applications from frequent travellers on both sides of the border. The program will permit participants to cross in dedicated lines without stopping for the usual questioning, but they are still subject to being stopped at any time for random checks.
Mr. Manley said he had no problems with American plans to deploy 700 soldiers along the Canadian border and to possibly add six helicopters as part of border surveillance.
"They can put whatever security precautions they want along the border," he said. "Quite frankly, we've had a lot more resources at the Canada-U.S. border than the U.S. has had for a long time. If they increase resources, that's not such a bad thing."
Mr. Manley also met with U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney for 40 minutes at the White House, discussing the softwood lumber dispute, agriculture and energy issues, the war in Afghanistan and the deteriorating situation in the Middle East.
Negotiators from both countries will be meeting throughout the weekend on the softwood lumber dispute, which officials hope to have resolved before Prime Minister Jean Chrétien visits Washington next Thursday, though both sides admit that seems unlikely.
Cheney is leaving for a 10-day tour of the Middle East on Sunday, in what was originally intended as an effort to sound out Arab countries about renewed U.S. action against Iraq. However, the escalating violence between Israel and Palestinians has taken over the agenda.
Manley urged both sides to stop the violence and return to peace talks.
"(Palestinian leader Yasser) Arafat must rein in the violence on his side, to recognize that attacks against innocent civilians are going to provoke a response and are not going to lead to resolution of issues for Palestinian people," he said.
"And likewise, we've had words of caution for Israel over quite a number of months, that they need to deal with the Palestinians, that practices like targeted killings were not ones that Canada supported and that the expansion of settlements had to stop."
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