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Powell Reassures Canadians About Free Flow Of People Across Border - 2002-11-15

Secretary of State Colin Powell flew to Ottawa Thursday for a day of talks with his Canadian counterpart Bill Graham. He reassured Canadians that the Bush administration wants a free flow of people across the border despite stepped-up anti-terrorist security measures.

The United States and Canada have perhaps the closest political and economic relationship of any two countries in the world. But ties have been strained in recent months over tightened U.S. border controls in the wake of last year's New York and Washington terror attacks.

Of particular concern to Canada were U.S. rules imposed on this year's first anniversary of the September 11 attacks requiring fingerprinting and other special checks for persons born in five Middle Eastern countries, even if they held Canadian citizenship.

Canadian officials criticized the policy as discriminatory and took the unusual step last month of issuing a travel advisory, telling Canadian citizens born in Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Sudan they should consider avoiding travel to the United States.

Law enforcement officials of both countries since held a series of high-level meetings and the U.S. Justice Department announced two weeks ago it has taken measures to "minimize the impact" of the policy on Canadians.

U.S. officials declined to give details, citing security reasons. But at an Ottawa news conference with Secretary Powell, Canadian Foreign Minister Graham made clear his government is pleased with the changes. "Clearly we were very concerned with the fact that people were being picked out of lines, and profiled on the basis of their place of birth," said Canadian Foreign Minister Graham. "I'm very pleased to say we worked that out, as neighbors do and we said look this doesn't make sense for the two of us as countries of immigrants."

Mr. Powell, for his part, said the United States is not trying to impede travel between the two countries and that border security measures are not directed against Canada or its citizens. "We have made it as simple as we can," said Colin Powell. "There are still some issues we'll work on. But I can assure you we're doing everything we can so that we respect Canadian citizenship and are not seen as profiling anyone, but doing what we believe is necessary to protect ourselves and to protect Canadian citizens."

The Secretary said he and Mr. Graham would work together on individual cases of concern, including that of a man holding dual Canadian and Syrian citizenship who was arrested while changing planes at New York's Kennedy airport in September and deported to Syria.

Canada says the man, Maher Arar, was a current Canadian resident and should have been allowed to return to his home in Montreal.

Mr. Powell's four hours of talks with Mr. Graham also covered Iraq and the upcoming NATO expansion summit in Prague.