Obama Makes Nice With Canada's Trudeau as Keystone Fades

  • Leaders of U.S. and Canada meet at APEC summit in Manila
  • Trade, climate change and Islamic State dominate discussion

In their first formal meeting, U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed to disagree over Islamic State air strikes while presenting a united front to boost clean-energy production after the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Obama and the recently elected Trudeau met Thursday in Manila in talks that focused on how the U.S. and Canada were cooperating on trade, energy and climate change. Recent points of tension -- including Canada’s decision to pull out of a U.S.-led bombing campaign against Islamic State, Obama’s rejection of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone oil pipeline and brewing trade disputes over lumber and labeling rules -- received little emphasis.

“There are no closer friends we have than the Canadians,” Obama said on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which wraps up Thursday. He said he planned on hosting Trudeau at the White House in early 2016. "We are confident he’s going to provide a great boost of energy," he said of his Canadian counterpart.

Trudeau, on his first international trip as prime minister, has said a foreign policy priority is to repair ties with the U.S., which have frayed in recent years over Keystone, country-of-origin labeling rules and other issues. Obama has repeatedly reached out to the young politician whose surprise victory and message of change have given him the kind of celebrity status the U.S. president enjoyed at the start of his term.

Gray Hair

"I just wanted to point out that I had no gray hair when I was in your position seven years ago," Obama said to Trudeau.

"I don’t dwell on the gray hair, because there’s nothing I can do about that," the Canadian leader replied.

Canada’s 43-year-old leader, the eldest son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, highlighted his commitment to tackling climate change, something Obama has been pushing as leaders prepare for global climate talks late this month in Paris. Trudeau’s embrace of policies that curb carbon emissions signal a departure from his predecessor, Stephen Harper, who had been less aggressive in tackling climate change.

"It’s going to be a wonderful time of strength in ties between our two countries," Trudeau said.

Trudeau -- like Harper -- favored Keystone, though took a cautious approach after its rejection and was criticized domestically for not rebuking Obama over the U.S. decision. He continued to tread carefully on the subject Thursday, noting that Canada has been seen to be lagging on environmental performance.

Reduction Targets

"One of the first tasks I have on energy and climate issues is to ensure Canadians and others that we are serious about" meeting reduction targets, Trudeau said.

Obama echoed that, saying he was "glad" for both countries having "traditional fuels" but that they needed to push more into renewable fuels.

"I also think we have to recognize that if we want to preserve this planet for our kids and our grandkids" we need cleaner sources of energy, Obama said.

Obama also plans to work with Canada to achieve final ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, which was negotiated under Harper. Trudeau’s Liberals have said they are "resolutely pro-trade" but have not endorsed or opposed the TPP deal, which has drawn warnings in Canada and is opposed by one of the two main opposition parties.

Sticking Points

Trudeau’s Liberals won power during elections last month with proposals to increase infrastructure spending and taxes on the wealthy, policies that have also been endorsed by the Obama administration. Trudeau plans to fund his promises by pushing Canada into deficit.

Yet his platform has also produced some sticking points with the U.S. -- particularly Canada’s pledge to soon pull its modest contingent of six CF-18 fighter jets from the battle against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

As the U.S. and other nations seek to intensify airstrikes against the militant group that claimed responsibility for downing a Russian jet and killing at least 129 in Paris, Canada is shifting its focus. Trudeau said after his election that he would keep his promise of ending Canada’s combat mission in Iraq and Syria.

"We have always had a sense of urgency about the need to defeat ISIL," Obama said, saying the coalition, including Canada, has exerted steady pressure on the group. "It’s going to be a multi-year task and we’re not going to be able to fully succeed in eliminating their safe havens until we have a political settlement.

Fighter Jets

"Canada is committed to continuing to engage as a strong member of the coalition against ISIL," Trudeau said Thursday, adding the jet withdrawal was discussed but he declined to say if Obama asked him to reconsider. "I made a clear commitment to Canadians to withdraw the six fighter jets and we will be doing that."

Trudeau also called for the restart of bidding on a new, cheaper fighter jet. The only jet he has ruled out is the U.S.-made F-35, which the previous administration had favored.

In the wake of last Friday’s Paris attacks, Trudeau said this week that he would send more Canadian special forces to Iraq to train local fighters there.

Obama and Trudeau have both defended their plans to accept more refugees from Syria in the coming months, facing down critics who say terrorists could use the programs to slip into North America.

Trudeau said Canada would accept 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year, while Obama pledged to accept 10,000 during the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

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