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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Leaves Canada Unsatisfied

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OTTAWA — President Vladimir Putin got most of what he wanted in Canada — agreements on closer cooperation, support for joining the World Trade Organization — but was unable to persuade Prime Minister Jean Chretien to reject a proposed U.S. missile defense plan.

The two leaders met for 90 minutes Monday followed by a news conference, then lunch and a state dinner.

Putin's trip completed his agenda of meeting one-on-one with all the other Group of Seven leaders in his first year in office as he tries to invigorate a struggling economy and recapture some of Russia's Soviet-era status as a world power.

On a crisp, windy day that caused Russian and Canadian flags lining the streets to snap and flutter, Putin mixed the protocol of a state visit with his own diplomatic posturing on major issues confronting his country, Canada and the neighboring United States.

He made clear that Russia considered the U.S. plan for land-based missiles to intercept incoming missiles a threat to world security because it would alter the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

"We believe deployment would no doubt damage significantly the established system of international security," Putin said. "This would … absolutely change the balance of power in the international arena, and this itself is a threat," he added later.

Putin and Chretien agreed in a joint statement that the ABM treaty was "a cornerstone" of global stability and nuclear nonproliferation that should be preserved and strengthened. Chretien, however, stopped short of matching Putin's opposition to the U.S. missile defense plan, saying it was too soon to tell.

Canada fears the U.S. plan would spark a new round of weapons proliferation. The issue is politically sensitive, due to Canada's status as a NATO ally, northern neighbor and key trading partner with the United States.

Chretien noted Canada was in a "geographic bind" because of its location between the United States to the south and Russia across the North Pole. Questions about whether the system can work and how the incoming U.S. administration of George W. Bush would proceed on the matter must be answered before final decisions can be made, he said.

"Our preoccupation and the preoccupation of everybody is to make sure that the stability that exists at this moment is not undermined by the [U.S.] plan," he said.

The issue dominated a 20-minute news conference that followed the signing of agreements on expanded air services between the countries and increased cooperation between Russian and Canadian provinces and territories.

Canada and Russia also issued joint statements on strategic stability, cooperation in the Arctic and northern regions, and Russia's efforts to join the World Trade Organization.

"A key element in our relations is creating a solid base for trade," Putin told a state dinner Monday, noting that Canada accounted for only 1.5 percent of all foreign investment, mostly in oil and gas.

Since the economic crisis of 1998, Canadian exports to Russia fell to $116 million last year from $255 million in 1997.

"This most certainly does not correspond to our countries' interests or capabilities," Putin said.

He said economic reforms including a new tax system and customs duties should improve the trade environment.

"The assurances I received from the president is that the situation will be much more normal," Chretien said.

Canadian Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew announced on the eve of Putin's address that Aeroflot was to be associated with a prospective $220 million deal to create a rapid transit link to Sheremetyevo Airport.

Pettigrew took several Canadian businessmen to Russia this year, clinching $800 million in deals. Chretien said he hoped a full-fledged Canadian trade mission could soon be sent.

Canada agreed Monday to help Russia develop laws needed for WTO membership and to increase WTO-related training programs for Russian officials.

A statement on the Arctic and northern regions included plans for a Canada-Russia "North-to-North" conference next year to discuss issues and opportunities in the territory.

Putin was to address a business lunch Tuesday in Toronto before returning to Moscow. (AP, Reuters)