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Biden, Trudeau meet to smoothen US-Canadian ties

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US President Joe Biden wants a reset in the relationship with Canada
US President Joe Biden wants a reset in the relationship with Canada

WASHINGTON – US President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meet by video Tuesday to calm the waters after the turbulent Donald Trump era, renewing an emphasis on the neighbors’ far-reaching alliance.

The White House is touting that the extensive talks — held by video because of the Covid-19 pandemic — will provide a “roadmap” for future relations.

Trump, who recategorized Canada and other traditional US allies as often hostile competitors, had a sometimes tense personal relationship with Trudeau.

By contrast, Biden and Trudeau are pulling out all the stops to change the mood music. The first foreign leader to call the Democrat after he defeated Trump was Trudeau and the first foreign leader Biden called after getting into the Oval Office was Trudeau.

The White House signaled the weight it puts on the relationship by emphasizing the role of US-Canada ties at the heart of even bigger settings, from the G7 to NATO, the Five Eyes intelligence alliance and the WTO.

Underlining a reset from Trump’s typically bruising trade policies, the White House said the “roadmap” includes working “towards reviving the North American Leaders’ Summit as a recommitment of solidarity among the United States, Canada, and Mexico.”

But while Canada is looking forward to more reliable behavior from its largest trading partner, Biden has already introduced his own new source of friction by canceling the cross-border Keystone XL pipeline project, citing environmental concerns.

– Shared China concerns –

“I think the biggest deliverable from the trip, or from the meeting, is going to be essentially… a roadmap to reinvigorate US-Canada collaboration,” a senior US administration official told reporters ahead of the meeting.

Announcements on “next steps” will be made in multiple areas such as diplomacy, transportation or infrastructure, and battling Covid-19, the official said.

Biden and Trudeau will address several mutual priorities, including tackling climate change, revving up the North American economy, the Arctic and threats to democracy in Myanmar and Venezuela.

“By being on the same line on several subjects, like climate change or economic revival, we can do more together,” Trudeau’s office said.

But they will also wade into the thorny issue of China’s “unfair economic practices,” its human rights record and Beijing’s continued detention of two Canadian nationals, according to the senior US official.

Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor were arrested in China in 2018 in what was seen as likely retaliation for the arrest in Vancouver of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou that year on a US warrant.

“Certainly we expect the prime minister to raise it and the president is ready to discuss it,” the official said.

The US administration official would not be drawn on how US-Canada ties might have been damaged during the four-year Trump administration, opting instead to highlight the various “shared interests” between the two countries.

One new sticking point that is likely to come up: Biden’s decision to cancel the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, a project fiercely opposed by environmentalists but backed by Ottawa.

Biden rescinded the permit by executive order on his first day in office, fulfilling a campaign commitment, and “the decision will not be reconsidered,” the official said.

The summit begins with a 45-minute closed-door bilateral meeting with Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, along with their Canadian counterparts.

It will then be expanded to a broader bilateral discussion.

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