White House Hosts Trudeau in Biden’s First Bilateral Meeting
The U.S. and Canadian leaders seek to put tensions over the Keystone XL pipeline behind them as they meet virtually today.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meet—virtually, Facebook and Australia agree to a brief détente, and EU ministers agree on Russia sanctions.
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Biden Hosts Trudeau For First Bilateral Meeting
U.S. President Joe Biden will hold his first bilateral meeting with a foreign leader since assuming the presidency when he hosts Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a virtual summit today.
Speaking on Saturday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, said the meeting would be “an opportunity for the two leaders to review joint efforts in areas of mutual interest such as the COVID-19 response, climate change and the economic ties.” The one-on-one meeting will also be complemented by lower-level meetings between cabinet officials on both sides.
While Canada has been traditionally one of Washington’s most reliable allies, the relationship took a hit during the Trump presidency. A Pew Research Center poll taken during the summer found that only 35 percent of Canadians held a favorable view of the United States, down from two-thirds support in Barack Obama’s final year in office.
On a political level, Biden caused headaches for Trudeau on day one of his term, cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline—which would link the Alberta tar sands to U.S. refineries—on environmental grounds, a move that “dissappointed” Trudeau.
Speaking to Biden today, Trudeau will likely attempt to mitigate further damage to the Canadian economy as he seeks exemptions to Biden’s recently announced Buy American initiative to encourage federal agencies to purchase goods made in the United States.
China troubles. He’s also likely to call for Biden’s support in the case of two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, detained by China in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on fraud charges on behalf of the United States. She is currently under house arrest in Vancouver while her U.S. extradition case goes through a Canadian court. (Foreign Policy columnist Stephen M. Walt explored the logic of “hostage diplomacy” last week).
An XL favor? Although Keystone has been the main point of contention between Biden and Trudeau so far, the decision may have been a blessing in disguise for the prime minister. Trudeau, who has not ruled out calling a snap election this year, gained little from his own supporters (except claims of hypocrisy) by expending political capital by defending the pipeline. A survey published at the end of January found that 59 percent of Canadians would “accept Biden’s decision on Keystone XL and focus on other Canada-U.S. priorities.”
That number balloons when considering his own Liberal party supporters; according to a poll, 77 percent of them are in favor of moving on from the pipeline. In a potential election year, Trudeau could not have missed that more than 80 percent of the supporters of Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) and Green Party polled also favored letting the issue die.
What We’re Following Today
Friended again? Facebook and the Australian government have reached an agreement that will restore news links to the social media platform, a week after the tech giant abruptly blocked all news articles (and some public services pages) from operating.
The Australian government added two last-minute amendments to its proposed new media code that includes a two-month mediation period, allowing time for Facebook to negotiate revenue-sharing deals similar to those Google has agreed to. In a statement with international implications, a Facebook representative said the company would continue to push back against media organizations who “advance regulatory frameworks that do not take account of the true value exchange between publishers and platforms like Facebook.”
In an FP piece published on Friday, Salvatore Balbones came out strongly against the Australian law. “The logic that Facebook and Google should subsidize the news is no better than the logic that they should subsidize all the losers of the move online,” he wrote.
The EU’s new Russia sanctions. EU foreign ministers have agreed to impose sanctions on four Russian individuals over the jailing of opposition figure Alexei Navalny. If approved by the European Council, it would be the first time the European Union has exercised new sanctioning powers that target human rights abuses.
Four Russian officials are expected to face asset freezes and travel bans as part of the sanctions. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas sounded a note of caution ahead of the meeting of ministers, suggesting further action would be limited. “I am for issuing the mandate to impose such sanctions, preparing the listing of individuals. But at the same time, we must look for ways to remain in dialogue with Moscow. We need Russia to resolve many international conflicts,” Maas said.
Keep an Eye On
U.S.-Saudi ties. The families of the three U.S. service members killed and 13 others injured by Mohammed Alshamrani, a Saudi airman who went on a shooting spree at Naval Air Station Pensacola in 2019, are suing Saudi Arabia’s government, alleging that the kingdom failed to screen him appropriately before sending him to the United States for training. The families are filing the lawsuit against Saudi Arabia based on a 2016 law that allows U.S. citizens to sue foreign governments over terrorist attacks—legislation that was initially passed in order to allow the families of 9/11 victims to bring a civil suit against Saudi Arabia.
Bolsonaro’s oil-industry meddling. The share price of Brazil’s state-run oil firm Petrobras plunged by more than 20 percent on Monday as investors signaled unease at a recent move by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to fire its CEO Roberto Castello Branco. Bolsonaro defended his decision to replace the executive with a retired army general on Monday, “It is my right to renew (his tenure) or not. It will not be renewed. What’s the problem? Some people in financial markets are very happy with a policy that only … serves the interests of certain groups in Brazil,” Bolsonaro said. The news comes as a recent opinion poll puts Bolsonaro’s approval rating at 32.9 percent, down from 41.2 percent in October.
Two years for Zuma? A South African commission set up to investigate corruption allegations against Jacob Zuma has called for the former president to face a two-year jail term for contempt of court after he refused a summons to appear before the inquiry. Zuma claims that he would not get a fair hearing as the judge presiding over the commission, Raymond Zondo, is biased.
Odds and Ends
A new national exam on cows developed by the Indian government-backed National Cow Commission has been shelved following controversy over its less-than-scientific contents. The curriculum for the test involved erroneous claims about the virtues of Indian cows that were widely ridiculed by the country’s scientific community. Among the “facts” on display: That Indian cows have a special “solar pulse” in their humps which can supposedly convert sun rays into vitamin D that is then passed on to milk, and an assertion that Indian cows are “strong” whereas foreign cows are “lazy.”
The issue of cows, considered sacred by Hindus, and their treatment has become even more of a cultural wedge issue in India following the rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, with sometimes deadly results. Attacks by vigilante “cow protection” groups killed 44 people between 2015 and 2018 according to Human Rights Watch, with Muslims among the majority of those targeted.
“This is very weird, this exam,” Komal Srivastava, an official at the India Knowledge and Science Society, told the New York Times. “If we want to teach kids about cows, it has to be scientific knowledge and not mythology.”
That’s it for today.