More policy, less pomp as Biden and Trudeau meet virtually

WASHINGTON (AP) — United States (US) President Joe Biden’s first bilateral meeting with Canada’s Justin Trudeau since taking office was high on policy, low on pomp and featured a very large swipe at Biden’s predecessor as the coronavirus forced the two leaders to convene virtually on Tuesday rather than gathering with customary Oval Office fanfare.

The two leaders — Biden in the Roosevelt Room at the White House and Trudeau in the prime minister’s office in Ottawa — delivered friendly opening remarks in front of the media, with flags from both countries on display at both ends of the long-distance conversation.

“The United States has no closer friend, no closer friend, than Canada,” Biden said.

Trudeau, in turn, commended Biden for quickly rejoining the Paris climate accord, a worldwide pact to curb climate emissions that President Donald Trump walked away from early in his term. The prime minister, who had a frosty relationship with Trump at times, worked in a jab at Trump as he praised Biden.

“US leadership has been sorely missed over the past years,” Trudeau said. “And I have to say as we were preparing the joint rollout of the communiqué on this, it’s nice when the Americans are not pulling out all the references to climate change and instead adding them in.”

US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken listen as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a virtual bilateral meeting, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. PHOTO: AP

In remarks at the end of the talks, Biden for the first time publicly spoke out against the detention of two Canadian citizens imprisoned in China in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a top Huawei executive.

“Human beings are not bartering chips,” Biden said of the two Canadians. “We are going to work together until their safe return.”

Trudeau, for his part, publicly thanked Biden for his support in seeking the men’s release.

Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were detained in China following the arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada after the US requested her extradition to face charges that the Chinese telecom company executive committed wire and bank fraud and violated US sanctions on Iran. She denies the allegations.

China lashed out at Canada last week for joining the US and 56 other countries in endorsing a declaration denouncing state-sponsored arbitrary detention of foreign citizens for political purposes.

Trudeau’s broadside of Trump was a notable coda to a relationship marked by some notably undiplomatic moments.