OTTAWA, ONTARIO -- President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday celebrated the close, “inseparable” U.S.-Canada relationship and vowed that the two nations remain committed to defending Ukraine as it tries to repel a Russian invasion that has no end in sight.
Biden and Trudeau met just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks for the first time since the start of the war. The Chinese and Russian leader agreed to deepen economic bonds between their two countries. But Biden argued that Western resolve remains stronger and warned Russia that the U.S., Canada and their allies would defend “every inch of NATO territory."
The president also bristled at the notion that Russia has managed to expand a partnership with Beijing that is allowing Moscow to sustain its economy and war effort despite the U.S. lining up an international coalition to economically isolate Russia with a barrage of sanctions. China, however, thus far has refrained from providing Russia weapons since the start of the war, according to the White House.
“We have significantly expanded our alliances,” Biden said with Trudeau by his side during a joint news conference. “Tell me how in fact you see a circumstance where China has made a significant commitment to Russia? What commitment can they make?”
At an earlier appearance with Biden before the Canadian Parliament, Trudeau said his country — which has provided Kyiv with artillery, ammunition, armor and tanks — remained committed to Ukraine's cause.
"As you well know, Mr. President, Canada will continue to stand strong with Ukraine, with whatever it takes," Trudeau said.
The whirlwind visit by Biden — his first visit to Canada as president — was meant to showcase U.S.-Canada ties, and both leaders offered full praise of each other.
Biden, addressing Canada's Parliament, even said the U.S. was “lucky” to have Canada as its neighbor as both countries grapple with the rapidly changing global economy, climate change, war in Europe and more.
“Today our destinies are intertwined and they are inseparable," Biden said. "Not because of inevitability of geography, but because it’s a choice, the choice we made again and again.”
“Two people, two countries, in my view sharing one heart.”
On one often-difficult subject, immigration, Biden and Trudeau used the visit to announce an agreement aiming to stem the flow of asylum seekers at unofficial border crossings from the U.S. to Canada.
The accord eliminates a loophole under existing rules and will allow both countries to turn away asylum seekers at their borders. At the same time, Canada announced that 15,000 migrants from the Western Hemisphere will be given official slots to apply to enter the country.
The leaders also sat down with top aides for a private conversation. Besides Ukraine and defense spending, the wide-ranging talks touched on shared concerns about China's aggressiveness and violence and political instability in Haiti.
Trudeau noted Beijing’s growing economic power and a need for the U.S. and Canada to work together to address it. To that end, Canada said Friday it was entering an arrangement with IBM to expand domestic research and development and advanced packaging of semiconductors — and planning an investment of up to $250 million to "improve North American competitiveness and supply chain resiliency, help cut pollution, foster economic and national security.”
Trudeau also spoke of a need to coordinate even more closely to combat climate change and grow both countries' economies.
“We have to stick together,” Trudeau said. “We have to continue to face down authoritarian threats, both at home and abroad. We have to continue to defend what is right. This is not the time to compromise on our values.”
At their joint news conference later, Biden briefly veered away the day's themes to send a warning to Tehran, after a suspected Iranian-made drone on Thursday killed a U.S. contractor and wounded six other Americans in northeast Syria.
U.S. forces responded to the attack with airstrikes on sites in Syria used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Activists said the U.S. bombing killed at least four people.
“The United States does not, does not seek conflict with Iran,” Biden said. But he said Iran and its proxies should be prepared for the U.S. “to act forcefully to protect our people.”
The subject of difficult relations with China was an undercurrent of Biden's visit.
Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, arrested in China in 2018, were in the balcony for the speeches in Parliament.
The two were taken into custody shortly after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, technology company Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder, on a U.S. extradition request. The Canadians were held for more than than two years in China before the Biden and Trudeau governments managed to win their release. Kovrig is a former diplomat, Spavor a businessman.
Regarding Haiti, Canada is being nudged by the U.S. and other allies to lead an international mission there to deal with the ongoing humanitarian and security crisis. Canada on Friday announced $100 million ($72.7 million U.S.) in new aid for support and equipment for the Haitian National Police.
Biden said the idea of deploying an international force was “not in play at the moment” but had not been taken off the table. Trudeau said the international community can have the most impact in the long term by being "there to support the capacity of the police in Haiti.”
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the country’s Council of Ministers sent an urgent appeal last October calling for “the immediate deployment of a specialized armed force, in sufficient quantity” to stop the crisis caused partly by the “criminal actions of armed gangs.” But more than five months later, no countries have stepped forward. Canada’s top military official has suggested the country doesn’t have the capacity.
Biden endorsed Trudeau's efforts to focus on capacity building but also noted the situation in Haiti remains fragile as “gangs have essentially taken the place of the government.”
“It’s a work in progress,” he said.
Friday's meetings also included discussion of defense spending, an issue that's in the spotlight after the U.S. shot down a Chinese spy balloon that traversed part of Canada and the continental U.S. last month.
Canada has long faced calls to increase its defense spending to 2% of its gross domestic product, the agreed-upon target by NATO members. Ottawa spends about 1.2% now.
"Canada and the United States share a responsibility and a commitment to make sure NATO can deter any threat and defend against any aggression from anyone," Biden said. “That’s the bedrock of the security of both our nations.”
The Trudeau government also announced plans for a $7.3 billion ($5.3 billion U.S.) project to upgrade and build infrastructure to support the arrival of a new fleet of F-35 fighter jets.
Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, closed the visit Friday night with a gala dinner in honor of Biden and first lady Jill Biden.