Chretien Defends Staying Out of War

Apr 10, 2:22 AM EDT
Associated Press Writer

TORONTO (AP) — Prime Minister Jean Chretien on Tuesday defended Canada’s decision to stay out of the war in Iraq, saying its friendship with the United States would withstand tensions over the issue.

“Close friends can disagree at times and still remain close friends,” Chretien told parliament in his most detailed defense yet for keeping out of the war led by its neighbor and ally.

The U.S. government has expressed disappointment over Canada’s failure to support the war, and Canadian business leaders have warned of unfavorable trade policies, canceled business deals and reduced tourism as retaliation.

Chretien said he sought to give U.N. weapons inspectors more time to try to disarm Iraq.

“The decision on whether or not to send troops into battle must always be a decision of principle, not a decision of economics, not even a decision of friendship alone,” he said.

Chretien was responding to a motion calling for parliament to apologize to the United for not joining the war and for criticism of President Bush by members of Chretien’s Liberal Party.

He rejected the Canadian Alliance motion, saying it put a “chill” on free speech. Instead, he proposed a Liberal Party motion supporting a swift U.S. victory in Iraq and committing Canada’s help in postwar reconstruction.

The motion, expected to pass easily because of the party’s majority in the House of Commons, also supports the decision to stay out of the Iraq war and reaffirms Canada’s close ties to the United States.

“We would have preferred to be able to agree with our friends, but we have an independent country, make our own decisions based on our own principles,” Chretien said.

“While we are not participating in the coalition … let us be very clear this government and all Canadians hope for a quick victory for the U.S.-led coalition with the minimum of casualties.”

Opposition leader Stephen Harper called Chretien’s position nothing more than “damage control” because of growing support among ordinary Canadians for the war.

Polls have consistently shown the public supported the decision to stay out of war, but the margin of support has decreased with the success of the coalition forces in entering Baghdad.