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Amid State Dinner Glamour, a Serious Agenda for Obama-Trudeau Talks

  • Reuters

A Canadian flag flutters between a U.S. flag and a Washington, D.C., flag in front of the White House in Washington, March 7, 2016. Preparations are under way for the official state visit of Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday.

A Canadian flag flutters between a U.S. flag and a Washington, D.C., flag in front of the White House in Washington, March 7, 2016. Preparations are under way for the official state visit of Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday.

Canada's charismatic Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be traveling to Washington this week for talks with U.S. President Barack Obama, hoping to revitalize a frayed relationship and draw rare attention to Canadian issues.

Trudeau's Liberals came to power in November by ousting the right-wing Conservative leader Stephen Harper, whose ties with Washington deteriorated as he hectored Obama in a failed bid to gain approval for a major Canada-U.S. pipeline.

Trudeau, who has basked in international media attention since coming to power and whose progressive politics are much more in tune with Obama's, will attend a state dinner Thursday, becoming the first Canadian leader to do so since 1997.

"We want to strengthen our relationship with the United States at a time when it is key for our agenda of economic growth," Foreign Minister Stephane Dion said in an interview Monday.

Canada sends 75 percent of its exports to the United States. It is also the United States' largest trading partner and biggest supplier of oil, but has found it hard to stand out.

FILE - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will travel to Washington, D.C., this week to meet with President Barack Obama.

FILE - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will travel to Washington, D.C., this week to meet with President Barack Obama.

"We'd sometimes like to think that Americans would pay attention to us from time to time," Trudeau said in an interview with the CBS television show 60 Minutes that aired Sunday.

Trudeau will press his message Thursday, holding talks with Obama, lunching with Secretary of State John Kerry and then attending the state dinner.

Countries' priorities

Canada wants to avoid a fresh trade fight over its softwood lumber exports, while the United States will reiterate long-standing concerns about how much information Ottawa shares on terror suspects, say officials involved with the talks.

The two sides are also set to sign a declaration committing to the fight against climate change, sources said.

"Canada's not an issue that gets a lot of attention normally," said a senior U.S. administration official. "[But] I'd be hard-pressed to identify a relationship that's more important day in, day out, and that affects more Americans day in, day out."

Trudeau has a higher profile than any Canadian leader since his father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who was in power four decades ago. The New York Times and Vogue magazine are among the U.S. outlets that have run sympathetic profiles about him.

Still, his visit may be overshadowed by the raucous race between Republican candidates vying to run for the White House.

Thursday's dinner coincides with a Republican debate in the battleground state of Florida.

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