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President Biden to meet with Canada's Trudeau during North American leaders' summit


It has been a while since a U.S. president got together with leaders from Canada and Mexico - more than five years to be exact. So when President Biden met with his counterparts today at the White House, it was heavy on symbolism. Here is how he opened up talks with Mexico's Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The best way to start this meeting, I pointed out, was when I became president and as vice president, I indicated there's no longer good neighbor policy. It's absolutely equal. We're equal countries.

KELLY: NPR's Franco Ordoñez was watching Biden's meetings today. He joins us now from the White House. Hey, Franco.


KELLY: What did they discuss today?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, there was so much on the agenda, from immigration to trade to energy. You know, this was primarily a chance for the three leaders to recommit to working together as a group on common interests and keeping lines of communication open when there are differences. That bond was weakened during the years under former President Donald Trump. He abandoned the almost annual gatherings and instead focused more on bilateral relations with each country. Today, the leaders were talking about climate and reducing methane emissions. They were talking about COVID vaccines and also migration, you know, but interestingly, the White House said they wouldn't be discussing the controversial Remain in Mexico program. That's the program that Trump started that requires asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico. The program is the subject of a legal challenge.

KELLY: I understand there was a little bit of a sideshow, that Biden's meeting with Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau, got sidetracked because of a question about the Olympics. What happened?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, it did. You know, these are the kind of close relationships that can sometimes get overshadowed by other diplomatic issues. And today, Biden was asked about reports that the U.S. would stage a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. And he said it's, quote, "something we are considering." You know, the extent of such a move is not clear. And the White House declined to comment on what it would specifically mean and whether it would affect U.S. athletes. But it did kind of upstage the meeting that Biden was having with Trudeau.

KELLY: I'm remembering that Trudeau did not have a good relationship with former President Trump. Trump called him two-faced. Trudeau got caught on that hot mic once making - we'll call them critical comments. I think that would be the diplomatic way to put it. How did Biden and Trudeau appear to get along today?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, they had a strong relationship before Biden took office, and they've been working recently on issues like climate and COVID-19 at the G-7 and other places. And Biden had warm words of welcome today.


BIDEN: I think we both think we're at our best when opportunity, equity and justice all coincide. And they're the core values of Canadians and United States. And so this is one of the easiest relationships you can have as an American president, one of the best.

KELLY: Well, that all sounds great, Franco. Did they - did these leaders disagree about anything?

ORDOÑEZ: You know? Well, it doesn't mean everything is perfect. One of the big issues being discussed is a fear that the U.S. will shut out Canadian suppliers of contracts for electric vehicles because of the rules in the new Build Back Better plan that favor U.S.-made autos by union workers. Canadians see this as a protectionist move. And Canadians are also still angry about Biden's decision to cancel the Keystone Pipeline, which hurt Canada's energy sector. Biden did say that leaders would talk about the tax incentives for the electric vehicles, but the White House pushed back against accusations that it would violate any trade agreements. And the leaders are talking about new ways to look at supply chain issues. This obviously is an important political issue for Biden as he tries to confront inflation.

KELLY: NPR's Franco Ordoñez at the White House. Thank you, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Thanks, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.