WASHINGTON – John Baird will be the first foreign minister to sit down with America’s newest secretary of state on Friday when he meets with John Kerry at the State Department to discuss an array of bilateral and international issues.
The two men will “discuss ways to deepen co-operation in the extensive Canada-U.S. relationship,” including efforts to streamline trade and travel at the border, Victoria Nuland, State’s spokeswoman, told the department’s daily briefing on Thursday.
Kerry, who was officially sworn in on Wednesday, insisted that he meet first with Canada’s foreign minister, she added.
“The secretary felt very strongly that our Canadian neighbour and ally should come first,” Nuland said.
In a statement, Baird said he was looking forward to working with Kerry “to find new ways to create jobs, growth and opportunity on both sides of our shared border.”
Baird’s visit to the U.S. capital comes just five days after he and Kerry had a 15-minute phone call on Sunday.
During that conversation, Baird told reporters in Ottawa on Monday, Kerry expressed no concerns about allegations that Canadians were involved in last month’s terrorist attack on a gas plant in Algeria.
Since then, however, it’s emerged that a man who held both Canadian and Lebanese citizenship was involved in a deadly bus bombing in Bulgaria last July. Baird hasn’t been able to provide details about the man’s activities in Canada.
Nuland said TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline will almost certainly be a key topic of conversation between the two men on Friday.
“I have no doubt that subject will come up, as it always does with our Canadian counterparts,” she said.
Baird made the case for Keystone approval during his weekend phone conversation with Kerry. The State Department will make the ultimate decision on Keystone because it crosses an international border.
The $7 billion project would carry carbon-intensive bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, and has become a flashpoint for U.S. environmentalists, who view it as a symbol of dirty oil.
Kerry has told Baird the State Department’s analysis of the pipeline will be completed soon. But Nuland said Thursday there’s been no change in State’s timeline on Keystone, reiterating that a decision likely won’t come for several weeks.
The new Detroit-Windsor bridge is another probable area of discussion. Both Keystone and the bridge are awaiting the green light from the Obama administration.
Nuland wouldn’t bite on questions about who might become America’s next ambassador to Canada. Several names are being bandied about by prognosticators in Canada-U.S. circles, including that of Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of assassinated former president John F. Kennedy.
When asked if Kerry, a longtime friend of the Kennedy family, would welcome that appointment, Nuland replied: “I have no personnel announcements to make today,” adding that such an announcement would come from the White House anyway.
Baird’s meeting with State comes as senior bureaucrats in both the U.S. and Canada try to move forward on Beyond the Border, a bilateral agreement aimed at easing the flow of goods and travellers over the border by sharing intelligence and harmonizing regulations.
At an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in D.C. on Monday, one American official said federal budget woes were hindering progress in some areas.
“It is fair to say we are facing some very difficult budget constraints,” Ana Hinojosa, a director at U.S. Customs and Border Protection and a member of the Beyond the Border Initiative, told the meeting.
Sweeping, automatic spending cuts to an array of U.S. federal departments and agencies — known as sequestration — are set to take effect on March 1. Hinojosa suggested any expansion of pre-clearance facilities at Canadian airports is likely not in the cards because of those cuts.
The Canada-U.S. boundary has been plagued by delays, red tape and out-dated regulations for years, especially in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.