Obama, Canada PM herald new partnership

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OTTAWA, CanadaPresident Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said their first meeting Thursday was a success that could foster neighborly cooperation on economic and energy issues, while avoiding the thorny topic of troop levels in Afghanistan and Mr. Obama’s one-time tough talk on trade agreements.

In his first foreign trip since becoming president one month ago, Mr. Obama greeted Canadian leaders and held a joint press conference with Mr. Harper, who announced a new climate change partnership.

“I expect that four years from now the U.S.-Canadian relationship will be even stronger than it is today,” Mr. Obama said. “I love this country and think that we could not have a better friend and ally, and so I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that our relationship is strengthened.”

Mr. Harper and Mr. Obama said they could agree to disagree on certain policies while fostering a partnership on climate change studies and keeping the people of North America safe.

Mr. Harper, speaking in both French and English, announced they had agreed to a new “U.S.-Canada clean energy dialogue.”

He said the group commits senior officials from both countries “to collaborate on the development of clean energy science and technologies that will reduce greenhouse gases and combat climate change.”

Each took two questions, on trade, the economy, the environment and Afghanistan.

The president, who announced Tuesday he would be sending 17,000 more troops and support to Afghanistan, spoke publicly about the increase for the first time.

“I ordered the additional troops because I felt it was necessary to stabilize the situation there in advance of the elections that are coming up. But we have 60 days of work to do,” Mr. Obama said.

“That review, which will be wide ranging, will then result in a report that’s presented to me. … In terms of length, how long we might be there, obviously that’s going to be contingent on the strategy we develop out of this review. And I’m not prejudging that as well.”

Mr. Obama told reporters that while the two leaders discussed Afghanistan, he “certainly did not press the prime minister on any additional commitments beyond the ones that have already been made.”

“All I did was to compliment Canada on not only the troops that are there, the 108 that have fallen as a consequence of engagement in Afghanistan, but also the fact that Canada’s largest foreign aid recipient is Afghanistan,” he said. “There has been extraordinary effort there. And we just wanted to make sure that we were saying thank you.”

Mr. Harper noted that Parliament recently passed a resolution extending the commitment to Afghanistan through 2011 and said his own view is that there should be an end-date of transitioning responsibility to the Afghan people.

“As we move forward, we anticipate an even greater engagement on economic development. That’s part of the strategy that we adopted,” he said. “The goal of our military engagement — its principal goal right now, beyond day-to-day security is the training of the Afghan army so the Afghans themselves can become responsible for their day-to-day security in that country.”

Mr. Harper acted warmly toward the popular U.S. president — who enjoys an 80 percent approval rating among Canadians while his own is sagging — and said he predicts four years from now the nations will remain “closer economically, socially, culturally, in terms of our international partnerships, than any two nations on the face of the earth; closer friends than any two nations on the face of the earth.”

The last election wasn’t far from Mr. Obama’s mind as the first words he spoke were about a battleground state back home.

“It’s a great pleasure to be here in Iowa — Ottawa,” Mr. Obama said, catching himself before the entire word was out of his mouth but not in time to avoid the remark being labeled as a gaffe.

The president often says “it’s great to be” wherever he goes.

Iowa was a key battleground state, but also the Jan. 4, 2008 caucus was his first win during the Democratic primary election. It swung his way in November, and a downtown Des Moines rally on Halloween was one of his last campaign stops before winning the presidency.

Flubbing the name of a location has happened to many politicians, and has happened to the president before.

Republicans had great fun mocking Obama the candidate last year when he goofed Sioux Falls and Sioux City; and Sunshine and Sunrise.

Mr. Obama was to spend about seven hours on the ground in Canada for a host of meetings and photo opportunities.

“So nice to see you sir,” the president told Mr. Harper upon arriving at Parliament Thursday afternoon.

Mr. Obama’s first meeting was upon arrival at the airport with the Queen’s representative Governor General Michaelle Jean and her husband, filmmaker Jean-Daniel Lafond.

The Royal Mounted Canadian Police in red jackets, tall boots and hats known as boards saluted as Ms. Jean greeted the president.

Also there at the steps of Air Force One was Lawrence Cannon, minister of foreign affairs and Michael Wilson, the Canadian ambassador to the United States.

On the ride from the airport, Mr. Obama passed the world’s largest skating rink, the frozen-over Rideau Canal.

At Parliament Hill, the president participated in a ceremonial signing of two official guest books.

On the desk were a book with a green cover for the House of Commons and one with a red cover for the Senate.

Signing the Senate book with his left hand, Mr. Obama joked about being left-handed.

“It always looks a little funny on TV,” he said.

“Thank you so much. It was a great honor,” Mr. Obama said. Mr. Obama will have a working lunch with Mr. Harper, his deputies and lawmakers.

On the lunch menu is Pacific Coast tuna with a Chili and Citrus Vinaigrette, Maple and Miso Cured Nunavut Arctic Char, Lightly Pickled Vegetables and an Organic Beet Relish, Applewood Smoked Plains Bison, Winter Root Veg and Local Mushrooms. cauliflower and rosemary puree, juniper and niagara red wine jus. Dessert: Saugeen Yogurt Pot de Creme with a Lemon and Lavender Syrup, Wild Blueberry and Partridgeberry Compote, Acadian Buckwheat Honey and Sumac Tuile.

Mr. Harper told CNN Wednesday he is encouraged by Mr. Obama’s environmental outlook.

“We’re involved in funding technological development, looking at things like carbon capture and storage as a way of minimizing or cutting down on some of those emissions,” he said. “I think that’s going to be very important for the world going forward. You know, in Canada, we’ve been wrestling for the last decade or so with our desire to try and have a regime — a regulatory regime that would diminish our own carbon emissions. But we’ve been trying to do so in an integrated economy when the United States has not been willing to do so. I think quite frankly the fact that we have a president, administration that wants to see some kind of regulation on this is an encouragement.”

Crowds of revelers gathered to witness Mr. Obama’s first foreign trip were somewhat reduced due to snowfall, but hundreds were standing outside the House of Commons hours before the president’s arrival.

People stood on massive snowballs and held signs with political messages, including, “Stop cigarette smuggling from the United States to Canada,” “Climate emergency” and “Obama I love you — u are my brother, friend, victory.”

Mr. Obama emerged from his car on the opposite side of the several thousand gathered at the bottom of the hill. After a handshake, Mr. Obama asked Mr. Harper if he could go to the other side of the car to greet the crowd. Mr. Obama grinned and waved.

Before heading back to the states the president will meet the opposition leader Michael Ignatieff of Canada’s Liberal Party and address U.S. Embassy employees.

Mr. Obama on Tuesday told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation he believes there is a possibility for “trilateral cooperation,” noting his January meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon before the inauguration about his progressive vision for climate change efforts.

Denis McDonough, deputy director of the National Security Council, said the idea is to “hit the ground running with a very important neighbor and ally.”

One issue that may prove thorny is Canada’s tar sands oil supply.

ForestEthics and other environmental groups took out a full-page USA Today advertisement to showcase what they called Canada’s “flawed climate policy” allowing for the expansion of tar sands that some groups view as both dirty and dangerous. The ad said the sands and generate more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil.

“President Obama’s trip to Canada will set the stage for future international climate talks,” the Sierra Club wrote in a memo to reporters, urging Mr. Obama to offer leadership and a change from “dirty, Bush-era energy policy.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Gordon D. Giffin said the quick visit is “a real opportunity to have dialog on energy and environment and to pursue common goals of limiting greenhouse gas emissions.”

Mr. Harper said on CNN he was concerned about the “Buy America” provisions in the $787 billion economic stimulus package Mr. Obama signed into law Tuesday.

“This is a huge risk to the world right now. If there is one thing that could turn a recession into a depression, it is protectionist measures across the world,” Mr. Harper said, adding that he was encouraged Mr. Obama has offered similar concerns.

About the Author

Christina Bellantoni

Christina Bellantoni is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times in Washington, D.C., a post she took after covering the 2008 Democratic presidential campaigns. She has been with The Times since 2003, covering state and Congressional politics before moving to national political beat for the 2008 campaign. Bellantoni, a San Jose native, graduated from UC Berkeley with ...

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