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Canada Welcomes Obama On First Foreign Trip

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UPDATE: 3:30 pm

President Barack Obama tried to calm fears about American protectionism and assure Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper that he wants to grow trade between the two nations during his first foreign trip as president, reports the AP.

Obama says he told the Canadian leader during talks in Ottawa that there is nothing in the stimulus package that would run counter to that goal.

Obama had caused some nervousness in Canada by pledging during the presidential campaign to renegotiate NAFTA, the trade agreement linking the U.S., Canada and Mexico, to get better labor and environmental standards.

Both leaders said Thursday that as economies around the world face challenges, it's important for the U.S. and others to resist calls for protectionism.

Earlier:

President Barack Obama touched down in Ottawa, Canada this morning for his first foreign visit as commander-in-chief.

The day-long trip is jampacked. So far, Obama has met with Canada's Governor-General, Michäelle Jean and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In a longer lunch meeting later today, Obama will discuss a variety of issues including climate change, the Afghanistan War and trade with the leader of our northern neighbor, according to the Winnipeg Sun.

Obama made a quick entrance to Parliament Hill and failed to greet the crowd of more than 500 Canadians who gathered to catch a glimpse of the new president and prime minister, a Globe and Mail blog vented.

The two men waved ever so briefly to the assembled group from behind a newly-installed pexiglass. That's it. That's all. You can go home now.

Obama hopes to reconcile with Canada on the environmental issue, specifically, and repair the damage done by the Bush administration, the Globe and Mail reported.

A day earlier, Mr. Harper said Mr. Obama's presidency is ushering in a new era of North American co-operation against climate change after George W. Bush's inaction held back Canada's ability to tackle greenhouse-gas emissions.

In Mr. Obama's first foreign trip as President, the two leaders are expected to task officials with exploring North American co-operation on energy and the environment - which Mr. Harper's government hopes will be the first step to a broader pact.

The Washington Post reports that trade will be a major focus of the discussions today as well, especially in light of the "Buy American" clause in the newly passed Stimulus Plan that has ruffled some feathers in Canada.

A top Obama aide said this week that the president's main message to Harper will be to reassure Canadians that the United States intends to maintain a robust trading relationship with its neighbor.

"This is no time to -- for anybody to give the impression that somehow we are interested in less rather than more trade," said Denis McDonough, deputy national security adviser. "And that's what -- that's the message that he'll underscore."

Obama will also have a longer meeting with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff to discuss border issues, Afghanistan and the environment, reported Canada TV.

"I don't think you advise the president of the United States, you defend Canadian interests and the key Canadian interest that I see is the border," Ignatieff said. "It's becoming a choke chain for both our economies and we have to work together to reduce the barriers between the United States and Canada."

The Globe and Mail reports that Ignatieff, who would like to be seen as a contender for the prime minister position, will benefit the most from Obama's visit because he will win valuable media time during his meeting with President Obama.

Every leader of the Opposition wants to be seen as a prime-minister-in-waiting. A presidential visit helps immensely, particularly for a leader who's still introducing himself to Canadians.

"It puts him on an equal level, at least in a visual sense, with an American president, and therefore makes him look like a stand-in for the head of government, so people can literally begin to visualize this person as prime minister," said Strategic Counsel pollster Peter Donolo.

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