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Bush and Harper to discuss Arctic sovereignty, dangerous imports and Iran

[PoliticsWatch updated 5:15 p.m. August 16, 2007]

U.S. President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Stephen Harper shake hands at last year's North American Leaders' Summit. 

OTTAWA  —   Prime Minister Stephen Harper will likely discuss Arctic sovereignty and product safety with U.S. President George W. Bush at next week's North American Leaders' Summit, according to senior Canadian government officials.   

On Thursday, officials from both the Prime Minister's Office and the White House held separate briefings with reporters about what they expected will be discussed when Harper, Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderon meet in Montebello, Quebec, on Monday and Tuesday. 

The separate briefings illustrated slight differences in the political agendas of Bush and Harper. 

While Arctic sovereignty figured prominently at the press briefing in Ottawa, there was no mention of the two leaders discussing the issue at a press briefing given by Gordon Johndroe, special assistant to Bush, at the president's Crawford Ranch in Texas. 

This week, when Harper announced a cabinet shuffle in advance of  the upcoming fall sitting of Parliament, he also briefly updated his government's priorities, listing "assert and defend Canada’s sovereignty" at the top. 

"Discussion of the Arctic is quite likely given the renewed interest in the Arctic in recent weeks," a senior Canadian government official told reporters in Ottawa. 

Last week, Harper attracted international headlines when he toured Canada's North and made announcements of new military projects, including a deep water Arctic port. Harper's trip took place days after a Russian expedition planted a titanium flag on the North Pole seabed. 

"The symbolic staking of the flag at the North was exactly that," the senior government official told reporters. 

"The North Pole is in the high seas. Nobody has the right to claim ownership to the North Pole, so it was a symbolic act. But (Bush and Harper) may want to explore what lies behind the symbolic act of the Russians."

Canadian officials in Ottawa said Harper and Bush would discuss Afghanistan and the Mideast, but the U.S. official at Crawford was more specific and said the discussion of the Mideast would include Iran. Iran was not mentioned once during the hour-long briefing in Ottawa. 
 
The Bush administration has been upping the pressure on Iran in recent days in advance of next month's United Nations General Assembly where  Iran's nuclear program will be in the spotlight.  

This week, two major U.S. newspapers reported the White House and State Department are in discussions about making the unprecedented decision to declare Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. Such a move would mark the first time the U.S. labelled the armed forces of a foreign government a terrorist group. 

In other matters related to the summit agenda, Sandra Buckler, Harper's director of communications, told reporters to expect "some commentary" on "consumer protection around imports." 

Earlier this week, Harper himself said at a press conference that the Canadian government was concerned about recent recalls of an assortment of Chinese products in Canada and the U.S., including popular children's toys containing dangerous levels of lead paint. 

However, a Canadian government official downplayed expectations and said while the import safety  issue will be discussed, not to expect any agreement to come out of the summit. 

President Bush will arrive at Ottawa International Airport on Monday afternoon where he will be greeted by Governor-General Michaelle Jean. Bush will then travel to Montebello and hold a 45-minute bilateral meeting with Harper. The main summit trilateral meetings will be held on Tuesday. 

Protestors are planning to disrupt the summit, which they say is secretive and designed to fully integrate the North American economy along the lines advocated by business and political elites through the North American Security and Prosperity Partnership

The only outside group the leaders will talk to at the summit will be 30 CEOs who are members of the North American Competitiveness Council. 

Security in Ottawa and in the vicinity of the summit site will be tight. 

The summit organizers are setting up two locations near the summit site for protestors. Although they will be kept a great distance away, the protestors will be visible to those participating in the summit. Organizers will provide an audio/video feed of the protesters to those who are participating at Montebello.

"I understand this is in compliance with the courts' decision that protesters have a right to be 'seen and heard,'" according to Buckler. 

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