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Prime-minister-designate Justin Trudeau stops to meet members of the public on his way to a press conference in Ottawa on October 20, 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick)
Prime-minister-designate Justin Trudeau stops to meet members of the public on his way to a press conference in Ottawa on October 20, 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick)

Trudeau sticks by pledge to end air strikes against Islamic State Add to ...

Justin Trudeau was still celebrating when the White House raised its first qualms about his agenda: Washington wants Canada to stick with the mission fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

But the prime-minister-designate told his first press conference that he will fulfill an election promise to pull out of air strikes, and made that clear to U.S. President Barack Obama in a telephone call Tuesday afternoon.

Trudeau says Islamic State mission, Keystone came up in chat with Obama (CP Video)

It marked a first challenge to Mr. Trudeau, and a signal that international challenges will rush in quickly, even as a list of domestic promises waits.

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White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the President hopes to work with Mr. Trudeau on issues including climate change, but underlined Mr. Obama’s agenda: The U.S. hopes Canada will support the Trans-Pacific trade agreement – and wants Canada to carry on with the IS mission.

“We hope that we can continue to count on their ongoing support for this very important mission,” Mr. Earnest said.

For Mr. Trudeau, who has promised to warm relations with the United States, it is a sensitive challenge. He had his first congratulatory call from the U.S. President, then insisted at the press conference that Mr. Obama “understands” he has made campaign commitments to withdraw from air strikes.

But Mr. Trudeau, who has pledged to continue the training role of Canadian troops in Iraq, sounded at times more like someone signing up than a leader planning to quit the bombing mission.

“I committed that we would continue to engage in a responsible way that understands Canada has a role to play in the fight against [IS],” he said at a press conference. He didn’t say precisely when he’d withdraw Canadian CF-18s, only that it would be done in a “responsible” manner.

Politically, Mr. Trudeau cannot completely backtrack on his controversial promise to pull out of the IS air strikes mission.

But his tone Tuesday suggested he’ll try to manage the political symbolism. The Obama administration will hope to ensure Canadian withdrawal from air strikes isn’t interpreted as a weakening of international support for the mission.

Mr. Trudeau could choose to leave Canadian fighters in the mission for months, perhaps until the year-long mandate voted by Parliament runs out in March. Aides said decisions on the timelines are yet to be made. Or he could expand the training mission as he withdraws the jets – just as Stephen Harper’s government committed to training in Afghanistan when it withdrew combat troops.

It’s an issue that could complicate Mr. Trudeau’s efforts to show he has improved relations with the U.S., and end what he called “an era of antagonism” under Mr. Harper’s tenure.

Both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Earnest, the White House press secretary, were at pains to stress the broad cross-border relationship, and to minimize the importance of the long-delayed approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Mr. Trudeau said he chose not to raise the pipeline in his first call with Mr. Obama because he didn’t want to focus on “a single point of potential disagreement.”

Both also emphasized a potential shift on Canada’s climate-change policy, with Mr. Earnest saying the White House believes Canada could do more, and Mr. Trudeau saying he looks forward to demonstrating that there’s now going to be a Canadian government that will be engaged on climate-change issues.

On the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation trade agreement concluded earlier this month, Mr. Obama wants assurances that Mr. Trudeau will ratify it, as he prepares a political campaign to push the agreement through the U.S. Congress. And the White House issued a statement later suggesting Mr. Trudeau agreed the TPP should go ahead.

During the campaign, Mr. Trudeau had hinted he would favour the TPP, the text of which has not yet been made public, but refused to definitively commit to ratifying it.

But after his phone call with Mr. Obama on Tuesday, the White House summary suggested Mr. Trudeau had indicated he wants the TPP to be implemented. The statement said the two had noted “the need to move forward with implementing the high standards of the agreement, which promised to boost economic growth and support good-paying jobs on both sides of the border.”

An aide to Mr. Trudeau said the prime-minister-designate reiterated to Mr. Obama that he is pro-trade, but is committed ‎to holding a debate on the TPP in Parliament.

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