Thursday, February 19, 2009

Afghanistan, trade on table as Obama visits Canada - CNN Breaking

OTTAWA, Ontario (CNN) -- President Obama visited Canada on Thursday in his first foreign trip as head of state, meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss a range of complicated economic and military issues.

President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper meet the press Thursday in Ottawa.

President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper meet the press Thursday in Ottawa.


Obama and Harper discussed possible remedies for the global economic downturn, a new initiative to combat global warming, and the ongoing struggle against Taliban and al Qaeda elements in Afghanistan, the leaders said during a joint news conference.

• The war in Afghanistan: Canada has about 2,800 troops in Afghanistan, but Parliament has voted to pull them out by 2011.

At the same time, Obama has approved a significant increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan, bringing the total there to 55,000.

Obama has said he planned to take up the issue of Canada's troop withdrawal with Harper when the two meet in Ottawa.

"My hope is that in conversations that I have with Prime Minister Harper, that he and I end up seeing the importance of a comprehensive strategy, and one that ultimately the people of Canada can support, as well as the people of the United States can support," he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday.

A "Buy American" clause in Washington's economic stimulus package: Canadians worry about protectionism because of a provision in the package that requires the use of U.S.-produced iron, steel and other manufactured goods in public works projects paid for by the $787 billion package.

"[There is] a lot of concern in Canada that [the provision] is going to cut Canadian firms out, especially in the steel area," said Peter Mansbridge, the anchor of CBC's "The National."

Administration officials altered the language in the final version of the stimulus bill to ensure the provision will not trump existing trade agreements. Canadian companies will therefore still have the chance to sell products used in stimulus-funded projects.

Canadian government officials, however, perceive the provision as indicative of rising protectionist sentiment in the United States that could potentially spark a trade war and, in their opinion, deepen the global economic crisis.

The Canadian government says more than 7 million American jobs directly depend on trade with Canada.

• The environmental effect of Canadian oil: Obama has said he is concerned about the effect on the environment of the oil sands operation in Alberta, in western Canada.

"What we know is that oil sands creates a big carbon footprint. So the dilemma that Canada faces, the United States faces, and China and the entire world faces is how do we obtain the energy that we need to grow our economies in a way that is not rapidly accelerating climate change," Obama said in his CBC interview.

Experts have said that producing a barrel of oil from sand creates three times the emissions of a conventional barrel of oil.

The oil sands have made Canada the top foreign supplier of crude oil to the United States. The administration of President George W. Bush viewed Canada's reserves as one way to end U.S. dependence on Middle East oil.
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