MONTERREY, MEXICO -- Prime Minister Paul Martin's first official meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush yesterday marked a significant thaw in Canada-U.S. relations, yielding breakthroughs on two key cross-border issues. Sitting comfortably side-by-side after their breakfast meeting, held during a special Summit of the Americas, Martin and Bush lauded a new agreement ensuring the United States will notify Canada about any plans to deport Canadians to third countries.
And Bush announced Canada will be allowed into a second round of bidding for contracts to rebuild Iraq. Hours later, Canadian officials said two Canadian companies have procured contracts and 18 others will be making bids next week.
Bush spent close to a half-hour in private with Martin and another 45 minutes with him at a breakfast with officials -- in total, half an hour more than the allotted time.
Both leaders appeared pleased by the rapport they established.
"As far as I'm concerned, I thought that the vibes were very, very good on both sides," Martin said.
Bush praised Martin as a leader and highlighted the importance of Canada to U.S. interests.
"He's a straightforward fellow who's easy to talk to," he said.
Martin called the U.S. agreement to notify Canada before deporting any Canadians to third countries "unprecedented" in international relations.
"There will be a full process of consultation with the Canadian government," he told a news conference. "That is a breakthrough -- that does not exist elsewhere."
Appearing relaxed, Bush pledged better communication with Canadian authorities and said he will be in close contact with Martin.
"We owe it to the government to be forthcoming and forthright," Bush said.
But the president said the United States reserves the right to deport anyone deemed a security threat. "What I can assure Canadians is that we will do everything we can do to protect our country from attack."
In a signed letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States will notify Canadian consular officials of any intention to deport a Canadian citizen to a third country.
Ottawa has been eager to secure a deal to avoid another case like that of Maher Arar, a Canadian deported to Syria after making a stopover in the United States.
At his news conference, Martin rejected suggestions the new deal might not have stopped Arar's deportation. "It would absolutely have changed the circumstances under which he was sent to Syria," he said. "Absolutely."
Martin said he did not know with certainty the United States would agree to the deal on deportations until his meeting with Bush. "Until I had the discussion with the president, I was told that this thing could fall off the rails," Martin said.
Another meeting, likely in the United States, will take place soon, officials in Martin's office said.
Late yesterday afternoon, Canadian officials said the telecommunications company Nortel announced it had won a reconstruction contract in Iraq and another Toronto company has also won a contract to help rebuild the Baghdad airport. And 18 Canadian companies will go to Kuwait City next week to bid in the process worth billions of dollars.
Canada, along with other countries that opposed the war in Iraq, was shut out of the first round of contract bidding for Iraq's reconstruction.