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Veto supporters rally in front of the White House on the same day U.S. President Barack Obama vetoed a Republican bill approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, in Washington, Feb. 24, 2015.

LARRY DOWNING/Reuters

President Barack Obama criticized the Keystone XL pipeline as a boon to Canadian oil producers that gives short-shrift to American workers, saying the U.S. should focus on backing domestic energy projects.

In his first comments on the pipeline since vetoing a bill meant to force Keystone construction, Obama added an argument to his past skepticism of the project, saying the U.S. should focus on "American infrastructure for American jobs for American producers."

"I've already said I'm happy to look at increasing pipeline production for U.S. oil," Obama said Thursday in an interview from Washington with WDAY television in Fargo, North Dakota. "But Keystone is for Canadian oil, sending it down to the Gulf. It bypasses the U.S."

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Obama has repeatedly challenged the merits of the $8-billion TransCanada Corp. pipeline from Alberta, south through the U.S., and on Tuesday, he rejected Republican-backed legislation that would have bypassed a State Department review of the project and cleared the way for construction.

While backers have contended the project would create thousands of jobs, mostly during the construction phase, Obama said it probably would end up supplying 250 to 300 permanent jobs. He didn't specify where those jobs would be. He has also questioned the project's impact on energy prices.

In a separate interview with KMBC in Kansas City Missouri, Obama said the Keystone project "has been hyped a lot by the oil industry."

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that Obama's veto of the Keystone legislation was strictly about the legislation and not the project. It's "certainly possible" that Obama would eventually approve the pipeline once a State Department review is completed, he said, without giving a timetable.

The pipeline would cross Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska on its way to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

North Dakota is at the centre of a U.S. shale-oil boom, though that has subsided somewhat with a decline in global oil prices. The state's jobless rate of 2.8 per cent in December was the lowest in the U.S.

Obama has previously said he wouldn't approve Keystone if the project was found to significantly add to the carbon pollution tied to global warming.

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The WDAY interview was one of four with local television stations conducted in Washington as part of an administration effort to promote Obama's trade agenda.

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