Apec: Canada's PM Trudeau tells Obama he will stick to his plan to withdraw jets from ISIS fight

Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau (Left) shake hands during their meeting at the Apec summit.
Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau (Left) shake hands during their meeting at the Apec summit.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (Reuters/AFP/Bloomberg) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told United States President Barack Obama on Thursday (Nov 19) that he would stick to his promise to withdraw six jets that have been attacking Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) positions.

However, Mr Trudeau vowed to remain a "strong" partner in the international fight against ISIS. "Canada will and must remain a strong member of the coalition," Mr Trudeau said after his first formal meeting Mr Obama on the sidelines of a trade summit in Manila.

Mr Trudeau, speaking after the meeting, said he had reassured the President that Canada was committed to the US-led campaign against the militants.

In line with a campaign pledge, the newly elected Mr Trudeau has vowed to bring home Canadian warplanes deployed in Iraq and Syria, without setting a specific timeframe.

Instead Canada has said it will ramp up its commitment to training forces fighting the violent Islamist group, leaving an even greater proportion of the air campaign to the United States and other allies.

Canada last year deployed 69 military trainers to northern Iraq to train Kurdish militia, as well as six CF-18 fighter jets that have conducted 1,121 sorties in Iraq and Syria as of November 15.

Parliament in March voted to extend the mission by one year, but Mr Trudeau has vowed to cut it short.

At the same time, Mr Trudeau has vowed to press ahead with plans to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by year's end, despite growing opposition over security concerns following last week's deadly ISIS-claimed Paris attacks.

Mr Trudeau had pledged during the recent election campaign to resettle refugees now living in camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey by Jan 1.

Since taking office, he has mobilised several government ministries to meet the goal in such a short time.

Seeking to highlight areas of agreement during their first formal meeting, Mr Obama and the recently elected Mr Trudeau focused on how the US and Canada were cooperating on trade, energy and climate change.

Recent points of tension - including Canada's decision to withdraw the jets, Mr Obama's rejection of TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL oil pipeline and brewing trade disputes over lumber and labeling rules - received little emphasis.

"There are no closer friends we have than the Canadians," Mr Obama said on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum, which wraps up on Thursday.

"We are confident he's going to provide a great boost of energy," he said of his Canadian counterpart.

Mr Trudeau, on his first international trip as prime minister, has said a foreign policy priority is to repair ties with the US, which have frayed in recent years over Keystone, country- of-origin labeling rules and other issues.

Mr Obama has repeatedly reached out to the young politician whose surprise victory and message of change have given him the kind of celebrity status the US President enjoyed at the start of his term.

"I just wanted to point out that I had no gray hair when I was in your position seven years ago," Mr Obama said to Mr Trudeau.

"I don't dwell on the gray hair, because there's nothing I can do about that," the Canadian leader replied. Canada's 43-year-old leader, the eldest son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, highlighted his commitment to tackling climate change, something Mr Obama has been pushing as leaders prepare for global climate talks late this month in Paris.

Mr Trudeau's embrace of policies that curb carbon emissions signal a departure from his predecessor Stephen Harper, who had been less aggressive in tackling climate change.

"It's going to be a wonderful time of strength in ties between our two countries," Mr Trudeau said.

Mr Trudeau - like Mr Harper - favored Keystone, though took a cautious approach after its rejection and was criticised domestically for not rebuking Mr Obama over the US decision. He continued to tread carefully on the subject on Thursday, noting that Canada has been seen to be lagging on environmental performance.

"One of the first tasks I have on energy and climate issues is to ensure Canadians and others that we are serious about" meeting reduction targets, Mr Trudeau said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion cited the upcoming COP 21 climate summit in Paris, plus issues surrounding Syria and refugees as places the two administrations are aligned. "We are all on the same page regarding our contribution to the alliance against the so-called Islamic State, about the necessity to do our share about the refugee crisis, and there is no difference, at any level," Mr Dion said in Manila on Wednesday. "We are on the same page. On climate change, it's the same, we want to be sure that COP 21 is a success."

Mr Obama also plans to work with Canada to achieve final ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, which was negotiated under Mr Harper.

Mr Trudeau's Liberals have said they are "resolutely pro-trade" but have not endorsed or opposed the TPP deal, which has drawn warnings in Canada and is opposed by one of the two main opposition parties. Sticking Points

Mr Trudeau's Liberals won power during elections last month with proposals to increase infrastructure spending and taxes on the wealthy, policies that have also been endorsed by the Obama administration.

Trudeau plans to fund his promises by pushing Canada into deficit. Yet his platform has also produced some sticking points with the US - particularly Canada's pledge to soon pull its modest contingent of six CF-18 fighter jets from the battle against ISIS.

As the US and other nations seek to intensify airstrikes against the militant group that claimed responsibility for downing a Russian jet and killing at least 129 in Paris, Canada is shifting its focus.

Mr Trudeau said after his election that he would keep his promise of ending Canada's combat mission in Iraq and Syria.

"Canada is committed to continuing to engage as a strong member of the coalition against ISIL," Mr Trudeau said on Thursday, adding the jet withdrawal was discussed but he declined to say if Mr Obama asked him to reconsider. "I made a clear commitment to Canadians to withdraw the six fighter jets and we will be doing that."

Mr Trudeau also called for the restart of bidding on a new, cheaper fighter jet. The only jet he has ruled out is the US- made F-35, which the previous administration had favored. In the wake of last Friday's Paris attacks,

Mr Trudeau said this week that he would send more Canadian special forces to Iraq to train local fighters there. Mr Obama and Mr Trudeau have both defended their plans to accept more refugees from Syria in the coming months, facing down critics who say terrorists could use the programs to slip into North America.

Mr Trudeau said Canada would accept 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year, while Mr Obama pledged to accept 10,000 during the fiscal year that began Oct 1.