Thursday, October 19, 2006

Negroponte Comes to Canada

U.S. intelligence chief's cover blown in Ottawa

OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper met yesterday with John Negroponte, the U.S. director of national intelligence, at what was supposed to be a secret meeting to discuss security issues at a time when the two countries are trying to smooth troubled waters in the wake of the Maher Arar affair.

The unannounced meeting in Ottawa took place 11 days after Mr. Harper called President George W. Bush to say Canada was lodging a formal diplomatic protest about the deportation of Mr. Arar, a Canadian software engineer, from the United States to the Middle East, where he was tortured.

Canadian and U.S. officials tried to keep the meeting under wraps, but Mr. Negroponte's cover was blown when reporters spotted him and U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins being escorted to Mr. Harper's Parliament Hill office.

Also attending the meeting were Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and Michael Wilson, Canada's ambassador to the United States.

Traditionally, visits by cabinet-rank U.S. officials are accompanied by a bit of public fanfare, including an advance announcement by Ottawa. But Mr. Harper's guarded style of government has been characterized by unpublicized federal cabinet meetings and an unannounced visit by the Prime Minister of Haiti. Mr. Harper's office issued a hastily written note about Mr. Negroponte's visit only after journalists began asking why Mr. Bush's top intelligence official was on Parliament Hill. The note, which mistakenly referred to the director of national intelligence as the director of national security, said Mr. Negroponte was making a courtesy call.

"Mr. Negroponte is here on a liaison visit to Canada, as part of a regular exchange regarding security issues between Canada and the U.S.," the note said. "This is an indication of how closely we work together."

The U.S. embassy said Mr. Negroponte was staying for dinner and "touching base" with Canadian officials.

Speaking with reporters on his way to the Prime Minister's Office, Mr. MacKay said he did not know exactly what was on the agenda for the meeting with Mr. Negroponte. "He's meeting with Stockwell Day. He's meeting, I believe, with the Prime Minister just as a courtesy."

The United States has not yet formally responded to Canada's diplomatic protest note on the Arar case, Mr. MacKay said. Mr. Wilson delivered the note to the State Department on Monday.

Last month, a federal commission of inquiry cleared Mr. Arar of any involvement with terrorism. The inquiry also said Washington likely relied on false and inflammatory intelligence reports from the RCMP in its decision to deport Mr. Arar in 2002.

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