President Barack Obama on Thursday said the United States and Canada were more closely aligned than ever, using a meeting with Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, to announce joint efforts to curb emissions of planet-warming gases and to promote his personal rapport with the leader of a pivotal neighbor.
Obama played the older, more experienced host to Trudeau’s fresh-faced newcomer during the visit, the first official one by a Canadian leader in 19 years, as the two announced they were teaming to reduce the release of methane, a chemical contained in natural gas.
“He campaigned on a message of hope and of change; his positive and optimistic vision is inspiring young people,” Obama said at a news conference in the White House Rose Garden, drawing unmistakable parallels between Trudeau’s rise to power and his own. “On the world stage, his country is leading on climate change and cares deeply about development, so from my perspective, what’s not to like?”
Obama, 54, welcomed Trudeau, 44, with a formal arrival ceremony on the South Lawn featuring color guards and military bands. Trudeau was greeted by cheering onlookers waving miniature American and Canadian flags, reflecting the same brand of rock-star adulation that characterized many of Obama’s 2008 campaign appearances.
The official visit unfolded against the backdrop of an increasingly intense campaign to succeed Obama. Trudeau, who has joked about welcoming Americans to his country if they are afraid of a Donald Trump presidency, diplomatically declined to criticize the Republican presidential front-runner during the news conference.
“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,” Trudeau said, answering a question about the stakes for his country and its relationship with the United States should Trump or Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas win the White House.
Obama rejected the idea that his own tenure had helped to fuel Trump’s rise, arguing that the “Republican political elites” and news media are responsible for setting a divisive tone and elevating an us-versus-them mentality — including questions about the president’s birthplace — that created an atmosphere in which Trump has thrived.
“I have been blamed by Republicans for a lot of things, but being blamed for their primaries and who they’re selecting for their party is,” Obama said with a long pause and a grin, “novel.”
“What I’m not going to do is to validate some notion that the Republican crackup that’s been taking place is a consequence of actions that I’ve taken,” he added.
On policy, Obama and Trudeau promised that their two countries would “play a leadership role internationally in the low carbon global economy over the coming decades.” As part of the announcement, United States officials said they would immediately begin a new push to regulate methane emissions from existing oil and gas facilities, though finishing that process before the end of Obama’s tenure is unlikely.
The Obama administration wants to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. The Interior Department has proposed a number of regulations on methane leaks, but it has yet to write a regulation governing such leaks from current oil and gas drilling on public land.
Obama and Trudeau also pledged new cooperation in preserving the Arctic, and to move more quickly to carry out agreements made in climate talks in Paris last year.
“The president and I agree on many things, including, of paramount importance, the direction we want to take our countries in to ensure a clean and prosperous future,” Trudeau said, thanking the president, whom he addressed as “Barack,” for his leadership on climate change. “Canada and the U.S. will stand side by side to confront the pressing needs that face not only our two countries, but the entire planet.”
The official visit concluded Thursday night with a state dinner in the East Room of the White House.
The arrival of Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau — accompanied by their three young children — has prompted comparisons to a similar visit in 1977 by Pierre Trudeau, then the prime minister and the current leader’s father. That visit made headlines when Margaret Trudeau, his wife, wore an above-the-knee dress to the White House state dinner.
While Canada and the United States have long been close allies, Obama’s efforts to confront global warming had been a major point of contention with Trudeau’s predecessor, Stephen Harper, who sought to aggressively expand Canada’s oil industry.
As Obama became more determined to leave behind a lasting environmental legacy, he delayed and eventually rejected construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have transported nearly a million barrels a day of heavily polluting oil from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Obama’s rejection of the pipeline severely strained relations with Harper.
But Trudeau’s election last year signaled a shift in policy that was welcomed by the White House. Trudeau did not criticize Obama’s stance on the pipeline, and he has pledged to pursue an ambitious environmental agenda dovetailing with Obama’s policies.
In December, Canadian officials helped to push through a historic global climate agreement in Paris.
In their Oval Office meeting on Thursday, the leaders also discussed military cooperation, efforts to combat terrorism, improvements in trade and environmental concerns.
They agreed to push forward on an agreement allowing travelers from each country to be pre-cleared through immigration and customs, aiding tourism and commerce. The two leaders also struck a deal to share more information — including on no-fly lists and border crossings — in an effort to prevent foreign fighters from traveling freely between Canada and the United States.
They parted with some issues unresolved, most prominently a decades-old dispute over softwood lumber. American officials say lumber from Canada is unfairly subsidized by the government there, an assertion that Canadian officials reject. Both leaders said they were optimistic about resolving their differences on the matter in the coming months.
“It’s been a longstanding bilateral irritant, but it hardly defines the nature of the U.S.-Canadian relationship,” Obama said, adding that while each side would likely be dissatisfied with the outcome, officials would ultimately find a middle ground on the issue. “People will complain and grumble,” Obama said. “But it will be fine.”