Canada-US relations slide 'dangerously toward crisis'

Canada's falling out with the United States, once thought to be a temporary aberration in an otherwise harmonious relationship, is widening and taking on the characteristics of a deeply entrenched and lasting split.

Despite a series of recent top-level meetings between US and Canadian leaders , there is no sign that relations, believed by many to be at a 10-year nadir, are likely to improve. In fact, spokesmen on both sides of the border appear to be increasingly combative in their remarks, and the host of energy, economic, and other issues dividing Ottawa and Washington seems to grow almost by the week.

The war of words came to a head last week when Myer Rashish, US undersecretary of state, declared that Canada-US relations were "sliding dangerously toward crisis" because of Canada's nationalistic policies. He raised a specter of "irreparable damage between the two countries."

canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, in his first remarks on the matter last week, refused to be drawn into the verbal dispute. In a press conference, he drew a careful distinction between the complaints of the oil lobby and the position of President Reagan. Mr. Trudeau said he was assured in recent conversations with Mr. Reagan that the US administration was not "being used by the oil lobby as a mouthpiece."

But in other recent instances, some Canadian officials have drawn a sharp contrast between the attitude of their government and the Reagan administration on crucial foreign policy questions.

In a major speech to the United Nations on Sept. 21, EXternal Affairs Minister Mark Macguigan spoke of South African and Middle East issues in terms that called into question Canada's traditional support for US initiatives in global matters.

Mr. Magguigan harshly criticized South Africa's role in Namibia (South-West Africa), the mineral-rich territory whose independence has been the subject of debate between Pretoria and the West for four years."

On the Middle East, he warned that Israel's needs can be met only in a political, not a military, framework and emphasized the "legitimate rights of the Palestinians, including their right to a homeland within a clearly defined territory, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip."

In another strongly worded speech, also Sept. 21, Canadian Energy Minister Marc Lalonde sought to dispel any suggestion that the Liberal Party government would bow to US complaints about Canada's nationalistic energy moves. The Canadian program is designed to reduce the extensive oil and gas assets held here by US and other foreign firms. Many US congressmen and corporate heads consider it discriminates against American business.

The interventionist stance taken by the Liberal government -- it has set up incentives intended to cut foreign-held oil and gas ownership in Canada from the current 70 percent to 50 percent by 1990 -- is one of the few bright spots right now for Prime Minister Trudeau's beleagured administration.

A recent opinion survey indicated that more than 80 percent of Canadians back Ottawa's plan to expand Canadian ownership of the petroleum sector.

On Washington's side, the unease about Canada's energy policies has been sharpened by a series of recent corporate acquisitions in the US by Canadian companies. In addition, the Reagan administration has been worried that the Trudeau government, in playing its popular nationalistic card, might take other steps to toughen the business climate here for US multinationals.

Recent calls by US congressmen and executives for retaliatory trade measures aimed at Canadian companies have received wide attention in the Canadian news media, and many people here are worried that the current low state of US-Canada relations could soon lead to something approaching a trade war.

The Canadian government is also concerned about what many here see as indefference in the White House to Canada's environmental concerns and about the strength of President Reagan's commitment to the financially troubled $35 billion Alaska highway natural gas pipeline.

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