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Obama Welcomes Trudeau With Focus on Climate, Trade

  • Aru Pande

U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed fellow progressive leader Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the White House Thursday for the first such state visit in nearly two decades.

"We're woven together so deeply as societies, as economies, that it's sometimes easy to forget how truly remarkable our relationship is,'' Obama said during a joint news conference with Trudeau.

During an arrival ceremony earlier in the day, Obama highlighted shared values noting universal health care, freedom of religion and the diversity in both nations.

"As NATO allies we stand united against terrorism, and for the rights of nations like Ukraine to determine their own destiny. As leaders at the United Nations, we stand up for peace and security and the human rights of all people," the American president said.

On the White House South Lawn, a crowd cheered as Obama and Trudeau shook hands with onlookers, some gushing "oh my gosh."

WATCH: Video clip of Arrival Ceremony at White House

Similar focus

In Canada's new, dynamic prime minister, many see a younger Obama.

Like the U.S. president, 44-year old Trudeau campaigned on a similar message of hope and change. His Liberal Party swept Canada's parliamentary election last October, unseating Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party, who had been in power since 2006.

"Mr. Prime Minister, your election and the first few months in office have brought a new energy and dynamism not only to Canada, but to the relationship between our nations. We have a common outlook on the world. And I have to say, I have never seen so many Americans so excited about the visit of a Canadian prime minister," Obama joked.

President Barack Obama meets with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, March 10, 2016, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.

President Barack Obama meets with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, March 10, 2016, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.

Allies amid contentious US election

The two leaders focused on fighting climate change, boosting trade and fighting the Islamic State militant group during talks Thursday in the Oval Office, before holding a news conference in the Rose Garden that centered mostly on the state of U.S. politics in this presidential election year.

When asked about the potential effect on the U.S.-Canada relationship, should Republican candidate Donald Trump be elected American president, the Canadian prime minister, whom some call the "anti-Trump," spoke broadly.

"The friendship between our two countries goes far beyond any two individuals or any ideologies," Trudeau noted. "I have tremendous confidence in the American people and look forward to working with whomever they choose to send to this White House later this year."

As Trump has called for a temporary ban on Muslims from entering the United States, the new Canadian leader was seen personally greeting Syrian refugees at the Toronto airport with the words "Welcome home, you are home." Canada has accepted 25,000 Syrian refugees into the country.

For his part, Obama noted that Trump's positions on immigration and other issues are not much different from other Republican candidates, but the president said Trump is just more provocative in his remarks.

"What you're seeing within the Republican Party is, to some degree, all those efforts, over a course of time, creating an environment where somebody like a Donald Trump can thrive. You know, he's just doing more of what has been done for the last seven and a-half years," Obama noted.

Arrival ceremony in honor of Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who is in Washington for meetings with President Barack Obama, March 10, 2016. (A. Pande / VOA)

Arrival ceremony in honor of Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who is in Washington for meetings with President Barack Obama, March 10, 2016. (A. Pande / VOA)

Tackling climate change

Obama and Trudeau also announced greater cooperation on fighting climate change.

The neighboring countries committed to cutting methane gas emissions by 40 percent to 45 percent below 2012 levels over the coming decade, preserving more land and marine areas of the Arctic, and speeding development of green technologies.

"We will take ambitious action to reduce methane emissions nearly by half from the oil and gas sector, reduce use and emissions of hydro fluorocarbon, and implement aligned greenhouse gas emissions standards for heavy duty vehicles amongst other plans to fight climate change," Trudeau told reporters.

Both leaders also vowed to implement last year's international climate control pact that was agreed to in Paris, and to sign it as soon as it is feasible.

"As the first U.S. president to visit the Arctic, I saw how both of our nations are threatened by rising seas, melting permafrost, disappearing glaciers and sea ice, and so we are focusing on making sure the Paris agreement is fully implemented and we are working to double our investments in clean energy research and development," said Obama.

Trudeau's White House visit marks an end to recent, occasionally frosty relations between Washington and Ottawa.

Former Canadian leader Harper fumed over Obama's years-long delay in acting on the Canadian proposal to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canadian oil fields through the central U.S. to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico. Shortly after Trudeau took office, Obama rejected it last November.

The 44-year-old Trudeau's liberal political views, however, are more attuned to Obama's than the conservative Harper. The new Canadian leader, the son of late prime minister Pierre Trudeau, is hoping to strengthen ties with the visit.

Canada is the United States' largest trading partner, with about 75 percent of its exports headed across its southern border to the U.S. More than $2 billion worth of goods from the two countries combined cross their border every day.

Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are hosting the 10th state dinner of his presidency with this one for the Trudeaus - the first for a Canadian head of government since 1997.

VOA's Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.

In Photos: Canadian PM Visits Washington

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