Wednesday, June 23, 2021

in-focus

Biden and Trudeau try to reset relations after Trump


Even through a video screen, you could feel the warm fuzzies between President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as the two met Tuesday for a symbolic rebooting of neighborly relations grown testy over the past four years.

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Biden recalled visiting Canada in 2016 when he was vice president and joked about his poor French. Trudeau said he welcomed partnership with the United States "to keep making sure we are pulling our weight around the world and making the world a better and safer place for everyone."

The relief on Trudeau's masked face was obvious as he and Biden held the pandemic version of an Oval Office sit-down. Trudeau was in Ottawa and Biden in Washington, but the White House clearly intended the session to be intimate and celebratory, a sort of hug meant to salve Canada's wounded pride after the slights inflicted by President Donald Trump.

"The United States has no closer friend - no closer friend - than Canada," Biden said. "That's why you were my first call," he added, and the first foreign leader to receive an invitation to the White House, even if conducted long-distance.

Neither leader mentioned Trump by name during the portion of their long-distance meeting seen by reporters. They didn't have to.

"U.S. leadership has been sorely missed over the past years," Trudeau said. He noted how differently the process of crafting a joint statement went this time: "It's nice when the Americans aren't pulling out all references to climate change, and instead adding them in."

That was partly a reference to a disastrous 2018 meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized democracies hosted by Canada. Trump skipped the session on climate change and refused to sign onto a statement endorsing the Paris climate agreement. Trump pulled the United States out of that pact; Biden recently rejoined it.

Trump's outburst at the time of that G-7 meeting included personally attacking Trudeau, tweeting after leaving the meeting that his Canadian host was "very dishonest" and "weak."

The shock and hurt in Canada, the largest U.S. trading partner and a close ally, was hard to overstate. But for all the palpable relief Tuesday, several irritants remain between the two countries, and Biden added one more on his first day in office when he canceled the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.

Ahead of the meeting, opposition lawmakers from across Canada's political spectrum called on Trudeau to push for an exemption from Biden's "Buy American" executive order on procurement, which could squeeze Canadian firms out of U.S. government contracts.

Conservative Party leader Erin O'Toole also urged the prime minister to ask Biden to let Canada acquire its coronavirus vaccines from U.S.-based manufacturers. Canada has been obtaining vaccines from Europe, and recent shipments have encountered delays.

"At a time when both our countries need to be focused on getting people back to work and returning to normal post-covid-19, Justin Trudeau needs to show Canadians he'll stand up for our interests and our jobs," O'Toole said in a statement.

None of that appeared to dampen the mood Tuesday.

The White House released a "road map" for U.S.-Canada relations, focused on a recovery from the pandemic, a reversal of the economic downturn and cooperation on climate change and other priorities. Among those is a recommitment to traditional alliances and international institutions such as the United Nations, NATO, the Group of Seven and the World Trade Organization.

The United States and Canada also will work together to resume three-way meetings with Mexico, a White House statement said.

Trudeau was just one of the traditional allies whom Trump publicly scorned, and both the Canadian and U.S. leaders were eager Tuesday to signal a clean break from the former president's tendency toward isolationism and protectionism.

Trump had mused about sending troops to the U.S.-Canada border, for example, and ordered the manufacturing giant 3M to stop sending N95 masks to Canada, before reaching a deal with the company that would allow the protective gear to continue flowing.

Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro even appeared to call into question the motives for Canada's contribution to the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan, in which 158 Canadian soldiers have been killed.

The comments were "such an affront to Canadian contribution and Canadian loss," a deputy defense minister wrote to Canada's ambassador to the United States in an email obtained by The Washington Post through a public records request.

Biden is now trying to make up for those years of tension. Even though it was the diplomatic equivalent of a Zoom meeting, Tuesday's session, as the first one-on-one with a foreign leader, was meant to reflect the resetting of a traditionally close relationship.

The White House arranged the day with as many bells and whistles as could be managed virtually. After their private meeting, Biden and Trudeau appeared side by side on separate screens to make public statements.

"Now that the United States is back in the Paris agreement, we intend to demonstrate our leadership in order to spur other countries to raise their own ambitions," Biden said.

He made a point of condemning the detention in China of two Canadians caught up in a dispute over Canada's arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. "Human beings are not bartering chips," Biden said.

Trudeau, who called Biden "Joe," added, "We're facing tough times, no doubt. But we're not facing them alone. Canada and the United States are each other's closest allies, most important trading partners and oldest friends."

Still, Canada's relationship with the new administration got off to a bumpy start. On Biden's first day in office, he signed an executive order revoking the permit for Calgary-based TC Energy's Keystone XL pipeline expansion, which would carry Canadian crude oil from Alberta to Nebraska.

The move was not a surprise, but Canadian officials had hoped for a chance to make their case.

A senior U.S. official told reporters Monday that the United States considers the matter settled. "The decision will not be reconsidered. It has already been made," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the meeting.

Published : February 24, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Anne Gearan, Amanda Coletta