By: Lee-Anne Goodman The Canadian Press
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 cooperation in the extensive Canada-U.S. relationship,” including efforts to streamline trade and travel at the border, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday.
Kerry, who was officially sworn in on Wednesday, insisted that he meet first with Baird, 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 capital comes 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 has 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 former president John F. Kennedy.