CANADA CAUGHT BETWEEN U.S. AND RUSSIA OVER MISSILE DEFENSE
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CANADA CAUGHT BETWEEN U.S. AND RUSSIA OVER MISSILE DEFENSE

Ottawa, Dec. 18 (CNA) Canada on Monday found itself caught in the middle of growing tension between Russia and the United States over the issue of American plans to build a National Missile Defense system.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin spent over five hours meeting behind closed doors over the past two days, talking about issues regarding nuclear weapons, trade, and the Arctic.

At the end of their meeting, the two leaders signed an agreement on nuclear stability, with both questioning a plan by U.S. President-elect George W. Bush to create an NMD system.

Putin argued that the American plan to set up the missile defense shield would "damage international security," and he asked Canada to join with other nations to oppose the project.

Though both Putin and Chretien reaffirmed their support for the long-standing anti-ballistic missile treaty, Chretien said it was premature to discuss the NMD plan since it's still in the concept stage.

Any American system would need Canada's cooperation, and Chretien admitted that being between the U.S. and Russia on this issue is not a very comfortable position, telling Putin that "questions will be raised by the Canadian government."

"We're in a bit of geographical bind in a way because Russia is on one side, and on the other side is the Americans. So we want to consider all the consequences this program could have for Canada," Chretien told the media.

Russia said if the U.S. goes ahead with the program, it will destabilize world security. Now that it is no longer a world superpower, Russia seems to be looking to Canada for a little leverage with Washington, D.C.

Canada could act as a mediator, Putin said at a joint press meeting with Chretien.

Putin appeared to have gained Chretien's cautious support in his fight against Bush's plan for a nuclear defense system.

It's uncertain how the new administration in Washington will react to the new cooperation between Canada and Russia. (By S.C. Chang)