Sun, Jan 16, 2005 - Page 7 News List

New Canadian ambassador denies he's `cozy' with US

UNPOPULAR In an attempt to distance himself from the Bush administration, Frank McKenna feels he has some explaining to do

AFP , OTTAWA

Canada on Friday named a new ambassador to Washington, who was immediately forced to deny he was "cozy" with President George W. Bush's administration.

In a sign of the antipathy towards Bush's Republican White House among many Canadians, ambassador-designate Frank McKenna found himself downplaying his influence with the officials it will be his job to court.

`Am I cozy with folks?'

"I think that my connections, if I can be totally candid here, have been totally overblown," McKenna, a former premier of the eastern Canadian province of New Brunswick, told reporters.

"Am I cozy with folks? I'm afraid I'm not."

Media commentary of McKenna's appointment, leaked to the press days ago, has focused on his position on a Canadian advisory board of the Carlyle Group, a US investment firm.

Carlyle has employed several former senior US politicians to advance its interests, including ex-president George Bush and former US secretary of state James Baker.

"I've met with Bush senior and (former president Bill) Clinton," McKenna said.

"I know some of the people in some of the parties but I wouldn't pretend to call (these relationships) cozy. It's not," he said.

US relations

Despite Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin's bid to improve relations with the US, Canada's neighbor and top trading partner, Bush remains highly unpopular here.

Bush's unpopularity in Canada is largely due to the Iraq war which Canada declined to join.

Bush himself referred to his unpopularity during a two-day visit to Canada, which sparked demonstrations across the country.

"I want to thank the Canadian people who came out to wave -- with all five fingers -- for their hospitality," he quipped in Ottawa.

Possible successor

McKenna, 57, who is in some quarters talked of as a possible successor to Martin, said he would resign from all corporate boards after consulting government ethics advisors.

McKenna will have a full slate of controversial issues when he arrives in Washington.

Portfolio

One part of his portfolio includes the bid to get US restrictions on Canadian beef lifted, despite the discovery this week of a new case of mad cow disease in Canada.

Washington is also pressing Ottawa for a decision on whether it will join its missile defense shield.

The missile defense shield project has huge implications for Canada's role in defending North America, but it is overwhelmingly opposed by Canadian voters.

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