The leaders of the United States, Mexico and Canada have wrapped up a two-day summit at a Canadian resort. VOA White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson reports the talks on economic and security matters were overshadowed by a hurricane along Mexico's Caribbean coast.
Hurricane Dean struck the Yucatan region of Mexico in the midst of the summit. The meeting ended with statements of concern and promises of aid.
President Bush said the United States would do all it can to help in relief and recovery. "I want you to know that U.S. agencies are in close touch with the proper Mexican authorities and if you so desire help, we stand ready to help," he said.
The summit schedule was rearranged to get Mexican President Felipe Calderon home as quickly as possible. He told a joint news conference at the end of the talks that the storm spared tourist areas, but resulted in severe damage in poor neighborhoods with few resources to rebuild.
"It went over the poorer Mayan areas, and I have a great deal of concern for the housing and the lack of services in that general area for the indigenous people there. And that will be the main area of concern for us and activity," he said.
The three-way summit was held under the auspices of the Security and Prosperity Partnership, an initiative launched in 2005 to find ways to facilitate the flow of goods and services across safe and secure borders.
As the three leaders prepared to meet at a luxury resort in Quebec province, opponents took to the Internet and broadcast airways warning of a conspiracy to boost big business and create a European Union-type super-government of North America.
President Bush responded to the critics, saying they are using scare tactics. "You know, there are some who would like to frighten our fellow citizens into believing that relations between us are harmful for our respective peoples. I just believe they are wrong," he said.
Bilateral meetings were also held at the Montebello resort, giving the leaders a chance to discuss matters that might not be on the full summit agenda.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper brought up the fate of his forces in Afghanistan during his one-on-one meeting with President Bush. He later told reporters the Canadian parliament will decide if their mission should be extended beyond February 2009. "I think we all can be very proud of the work Canadian troops are doing in Afghanistan. Parliament will make its decision in due course whether it wants to prolong the mission," he said.
A session between President Bush and President Calderon focused largely on combating the drug trade and related violence along the U.S.-Mexican border. Mr. Bush said work is proceeding on a common strategy. He said the United States is committed to the effort, but stressed it will be very different from the American program to fight drug trafficking in Colombia.
"This is different from Plan Colombia. This is a plan that says we have got an issue on our own border. We share a border and therefore it is a joint program. That won't mean a U.S. armed presence in your country. Mexico is plenty capable of handling the problem," he said.
The next North American summit will take place in the United States in 2008.