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When President Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien are together, they are all smiles.

But the latest diplomatic gaffe -- Chretien's spokeswoman calling Bush "a moron" -- is one more sign of the hot-cold relationship between the two countries.

The incident occurred while the two leaders were attending a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Prague last week.

After her off-the-record news briefing but with reporters still in the room, Francoise Ducros, Chretien's communication director, told a CBC reporter she considered Bush "a moron" for focusing the summit on Iraq.

Though the remark was initially attributed only to "an official" by the National Post newspaper, other media revealed the source of the remark.

In a statement apologizing for the furor, not the remark, Ducros said, "If I made comments in the context of what I understood to be a private conversation, I regret that they have attracted so much media attention."

Ducros also offered her resignation, but Chretien refused it, saying he would not fire someone for a mistake made in a private moment.

Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer dismissed the insult as coming "from somebody who obviously doesn't speak for the Canadian government."

However, commentators in both countries saw the remark as indicative of a growing distance between the two neighbors.

Joe Clark, Conservative Party leader and former prime minister, said the insult marks a new low point in binational relations.

Jason Kenney, a member of the right-wing Canadian Alliance Party, said the remark reflected a rampant "knee-jerk anti-Americanism" in Chretien's Liberal Party.

Chretien said Bush is not a moron but "a friend" with whom he has an "extremely good" relationship.

He said Ducros may have "used that word against me a few times, and I am sure she used it against you (reporters)."

But others note the growing list of barbs slung at Bush and the United States by Chretien.

During the 2000 presidential election, Canada's ambassador to the United States said Chretien favored Al Gore.

After Sept. 11, 2001, Chretien suggested the terrorist attacks were the result of perceived arrogance of the United States.

While Industry Minister Allan Rock called the moron remark "unacceptable," others said Canada's hot-cold relationship with the United States has historic roots.

"The desire to express skepticism about the United States" is as "old as Canadian foreign policy," said Norman Hillmer, a professor of history and international affairs at Ottawa's Carleton University.

Indeed, one of Canada's first foreign policy actions toward the United States was an 1850s extradition policy that exempted runaway slaves despite American efforts to claim them as fugitives.

Similarly, while Canada supported the United States during the Cold War, its early relations with communist China and ongoing relations with Cuba have been the cause of several rifts.

Canadians "are anti-American and pro-American in the same divided soul," Hillmer said, so "conflict and cooperation are built in."

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