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Obama meets with Canada's P.M.

From NBC's Athena Jones
OTTAWA, Canada -- Snow flurries and cheering throngs greeted President Obama today, as he made his first foreign trip as president to meet Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Some 17 Royal Canadian Mounted Police, clad in red, marched to the foot of the stairs as Obama deplaned at the airport, where he had brief meetings with several Canadian officials.

At least a thousand people waited outside Parliament to greet Obama, some holding aloft signs -- one read "Yes we CANada" -- and cheering as his motorcade pulled up a short time later. Others, including a person dressed as a polar bear, held banners demanding action on climate change.

Obama and Harper met privately and held a working lunch, where they discussed trade, the economy, restructuring the American auto industry, the war in Afghanistan, and energy and the environment before taking questions from the press.

In his opening statement at the media availability, Obama said the two countries were working closely on a bilateral basis and within the G-8 and G-20 to restore confidence in our financial markets. He also sought to ensure America's biggest trading partner -- some $1.5 billion in goods and about 300,000 people cross the border each day -- that he was not eager to renegotiate the North America Free Trade Agreement, despite his tough language during the primary fight with Hillary Clinton. And he said that he did not support projectionist action, despite the "Buy America" provisions included in the stimulus package.

"Now is a time where we've got to be very careful about any signals of protectionism," he began. "As obviously one of the largest economies in the world, it's important for us to make sure that we are showing leadership in the belief that trade ultimately is beneficial to all countries."

The president repeated earlier arguments he made in an interview this week with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, saying that he wanted labor and environmental provisions incorporated into the main body of the NAFTA deal, and that any provisions in the stimulus fit current trade agreements.
 
Obama said he had assured Harper that he wanted to grow trade and not contract it.
For his part, Harper said that trade agreements had been "nothing but beneficial" for the two countries and had led to a "massive explosion of trade" that supports millions of jobs. He argued Canada could look closely at some of the provisions in NAFTA without "unraveling what is a very complex agreement." The prime minister was equally stern when it came to discussion of the "Buy America" provisions, saying domestic preferences and purchasing policies are not allowed without limit.

"We expect the United States to adhere to its -- to its international obligations; I have every expectation, based on what the president's told me and what he said publicly many times in the past, that the United States will do just that," Harper said.

Obama thanked Canadians for their sacrifices in the war in Afghanistan and said he had not asked Harper to extend the country's troop presence past 2011. Harper said he expected the country to become more engaged with economic development in Afghanistan.

The leaders also announced a plan to cooperate on climate change by expanding clean energy research and the development of clean energy technology and by building an efficient electric grid based on renewable energy. Officials from both countries are set to meet "in the coming weeks" to launch the clean energy dialogue.

Both leaders underscored the close relationship between Canada and America, and said they expected it to grow stronger during the course of Obama's administration. Obama even took a moment to thank Canadians who had come down to campaign for him during the fall election.

After leaving Parliament, the president created another stir among locals when he made a couple of unscheduled stops at an indoor crafts market and a bakery, telling the pool of reporters following him that he was on a quest for gifts for his family, including a snow globe, a key chain, and a beaver tail (which is a deep-fried pastry popular here).

This particular beaver tail was made by a local chef who began making so-called "Obama Tails" around the time of the inauguration. The "Obama Tail" features a whipped cream "O" with chocolate drizzle. The president, known for his healthy eating and exercise habits, ate part of the pastry, telling reporters "it was very large."

Hundreds lined the president's route, some shouting "we love you" as he made his way around.

Obama met briefly with opposition leader Michael Ignatieff, who heads the Liberal Party, and spoke to U.S. Embassy employees at the airport before it was wheels up to Washington, marking the end of his third trip in as many days.