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Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on Sept. 16, 2009. (Charles Dharapak/The Associated Press)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on Sept. 16, 2009. (Charles Dharapak/The Associated Press)


A transcript of the Harper-Obama presser Add to ...

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me start with Afghanistan, and I'll just reiterate what I said earlier. We are in the process of making a strategy -- a series of strategic decisions that will be sustainable, and we'll be doing so in close consultation with our allies and our partners.

We are tremendously grateful for the extraordinary sacrifices of the Canadian military. They have fought. They have had staying power. They have absorbed losses that we all grieve for.

And so I'm not worried about what will happen post-2011. I want to make sure that given the commitments that have already been made and that are continuing that we make sure that the Canadian presence there fits into a coherent whole, and that it's accomplishing our goals. And our goals are to eliminate al Qaeda as a threat and, as Prime Minister Harper mentioned, I think it is important to recognize that ultimately Afghan security has to transition onto the shoulders of Afghan -- the Afghan government and Afghan security forces. And so the degree to which we are training them and building capacity, that's something that I'm certain will be part of any long-term strategy, sustainable strategy.

On the economic front, the issue of "Buy American" in the stimulus package, I'm glad to hear that Canadians see this as -- the recovery package as being so significant. I've been trying to persuade the American public of precisely that fact, that we're actually creating jobs and putting people back to work.

The "Buy American" provisions that were there, as I noted at the time, we made sure that they were WTO compliant. That doesn't mean that they're not a source of irritation between the United States and Canada. Prime Minister Harper, I want to emphasize, has brought this up with me every single time we've met, so he's been on the job on this issue. And our teams have been working together. It appears that there may be ways to deal with this bilaterally, but also potentially multilaterally.

The provincial governments in Canada, my understanding is, are not signatories to the WTO government procurement agreements that would have preempted any of these "Buy America" agreements. That might be one solution. But in addition, we're pursuing, on a bilateral track, efforts to make sure that these sources of tension diminish.

But I do want to keep things in perspective. U.S.-Canadian trade continues to be robust. Canada continues to be a huge trading partner to the United States. Businesses in the United States and Canada both benefit from that trade, as do consumers. There is no prospect of any budding trade wars between our two countries. These are legitimate issues that have to be concerned -- have to be raised, but I think it's important to understand that on the scale of our overall trading relationship, these aren't the -- these shouldn't be considered the dominant element of our economic relationship.

PRIME MINISTER HARPER: Eric, first of all on Afghanistan, I think it's important to rephrase your question, which is, Canada is not leaving Afghanistan; Canada will be transitioning from a predominantly military mission to a mission that will be a civilian humanitarian development mission after 2011. That transition is already in place.

As you know, Canada has had a very robust engagement for some time. We've actually, over the course of the last three or four years, as a consequence of that, increased our troop levels. I think you heard what I said earlier, that what's essential is that whatever we in NATO and our U.N. allies are doing, that we make sure that eventually this country can stand on its own two feet, particularly on the security side, where they have their primary responsibility so we can help more and more on the development and humanitarian side.

On "Buy America," we obviously had the discussions. The President indicated we have negotiators who are looking at a range of options. We talked about some of those today, and we'll be giving more detailed direction to them in terms of the kinds of options they should look at.

As you know, I agree with the President's assessment. We shouldn't move the forest for the trees. These are important irritants; they are having some real impacts. But they are relatively small compared to the overall scale of Canadian-American trade. But I would emphasize that it is critical at a time where we're trying to see a recovery in the global economy, where forces of protectionism are a very significant threat, that we continue to demonstrate to the world that Canada and the United States can manage trade relations in a way that's extremely positive and a model for other countries.

(Speaking French.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you, everybody.

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