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BUSH ASKED TO COMMIT RESOURCES TO LOCAL BORDERS

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rep. John J. LaFalce are urging the Bush administration to make major commitments of personnel and technology to speed traffic across the Canadian border while sealing it against terrorists.

Their pleas came as President Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien met Monday to consider joint moves to cooperate in the war against terrorism.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was noncommittal about what their conference had accomplished.

And Chretien and an embassy aide appeared to give mixed messages about whether increased security at the U.S. border takes priority over trade.

Chretien said the terrorist attacks should not hamper the flow of trade between the two nations.

"If we put impediments at the border, both economies will suffer and he (Bush) agrees with me, we have to make sure that the flow of goods come back to normal as quickly as possible," Chretien said during an appearance at the White House.

But a different emphasis was placed on a question by Canada's deputy chief of mission at the Canadian Embassy, Bertin Cote.

"There can be no choice between safeguarding the security of our people over profit statements. . . . Let me make this perfectly clear," Cote told a luncheon meeting of the Can-Am Border Trade Alliance.

Clinton, D-N.Y., told reporters, "It's clear that our long peaceful northern border is viewed by terrorists as an easy way to enter our country. And that directly affects everyone in the country, but particularly New Yorkers."

"I had asked for more help (from the Bush administration) with border crossings even before Sept. 11," Clinton said. "I did not think we were protecting our northern border well enough. I don't think we have the resources from Plattsburgh to Buffalo to man our bridges, to man our Customs stations. We've got to do better."

LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, said it is time the federal government made good on the promises made in 1995 when the United States and Canada announced the Northern Border Accords -- a set of goals designed to speed traffic and curb the flow of drugs.

Little or nothing has been done since those accords were announced, LaFalce said. "It's been moving in slow motion, and the leadership has been weak."

LaFalce said the United States and Canada should make permanent the procedures they employed for clearing truck traffic into the United States on Sept. 12, the day after the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

For one day, LaFalce said, U.S. customs agents inspected in-bound trucks at Fort Erie, Ont., in the Peace Bridge Commercial Vehicle Processing Center. They worked without their weapons to accommodate Canadian law but operated under the protection of Canadian police officers.

As Bush and Chretien met in private, Fleischer said: "The president is satisfied that border cooperation with Canada is strong. Now, in the midst of that strength, are there opportunities to look and see if there are any additional things that can be done? I will never rule out that possibility."

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com

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