WASHINGTON – President Bush plans to meet with the leaders of Mexico and Canada at the end of the month in the Mexican resort city of Cancun to discuss a wide range of pressing economic and security issues.

Details of the March 30-31 summit are still being worked out with the host, Mexican President Vicente Fox. But U.S. administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement, said the forum is expected to be the first opportunity for Bush to meet with the new Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper.

Harper, a member of the Conservative Party, took office last month, promising better relations with the Bush administration than his liberal predecessor, Paul Martin.

Among other issues, the two countries have a running trade dispute over softwood lumber and lingering hard feelings over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

For Fox, who’s finishing a six-year term, the summit will probably be his last trilateral gathering as president. The last one was hosted nearly a year ago in Texas by Bush at Baylor University in Waco and at his ranch near Crawford.

Fox and Bush conferred by telephone two weeks ago about immigration and other border issues, particularly the increase in border violence. White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the two leaders also discussed the Security and Prosperity Partnership among the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Under that initiative outlined last year at the Texas summit, the three countries, which are joined in the North American Free Trade Agreement, pledged to develop a common security strategy and promote “economic growth and competitiveness and quality of life.”

The leaders are expected to review progress on the initiative at Cancun, fine-tune it and make new recommendations on how best to proceed.

(c) 2006, The Dallas Morning News.

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