By DREW FAGAN
OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
Prime Minister Paul Martin will seek to step lightly on Canada-U.S. relations in his two days in Washington next week, emphasizing multilateralism and global development issues in his single speech as he goes to the White House for the first time and meets a who's who of U.S. Congressional leaders.
Canadian and U.S. sources cautioned yesterday that neither side expects breakthroughs on key disputes when Mr. Martin holds his first White House meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush on April 30.
The two-day visit could serve as the prelude to a spring election.
Mr. Bush likely cannot deliver an immediate fix on perennial problems such as the softwood lumber and mad-cow disputes, Ottawa officials note, since progress is not solely dependent on White House intervention.
Nor, U.S. officials agree, does the White House expect sudden movement by Canada on critical matters such as Iraq - especially when Mr. Martin will be particularly cognizant of Mr. Bush's unpopularity in Canada as an election potentially draws near.
"There is a big agenda, but I don't think you should be thinking of this as a 'deliverables' meeting," a Canadian official said.
The careful choreography of Mr. Martin's visit - "close but not too close," in the words of another official - is evident in his sole public-speaking engagement.
Mr. Martin is expected to focus on his push for regular meetings of the leaders of the G20 organization of developed and developing countries in his address on April 29 to the Center for Global Development and the Woodrow Wilson International Center.
Mr. Martin, who helped found the G20 as a decision-making forum among finance ministers, has made its expansion to the next level of political leadership a key goal. But the Bush administration has been lukewarm, as it has been on other multilateral initiatives.
The speech will be hosted by Lee Hamilton, a retired long-time Democratic member of Congress who is now vice-chairman of the commission examining the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Sources said Mr. Martin will meet with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle on April 29, and is also expected that day to meet Dennis Hastert, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Nancy Pelosi, the ranking Democrat in the House. Meetings are also being sought with the senior members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - Republican Richard Lugar and Democrat Joseph Biden.
Before heading to the White House on the morning of April 30, Mr. Martin is scheduled to meet on global issues with NGO representatives.
The meeting at the White House is now expected to last about 45 minutes, after which there will be a working lunch. It remains unclear which administration officials will be present in addition to the President. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are expected to attend, but others - such as Vice-President Dick Cheney - have not been confirmed.