Trump and Trudeau’s most important words at the White House

John Geddes on the two key statements made by the leaders today as they addressed Syrian refugees and ‘tweaking’ NAFTA

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US President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, February 13, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had to know the question would be coming. In his joint White House press conference with U.S. President Donald Trump today, Trudeau was asked about his view of Trump’s bid to ban travel to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Syrian refugees. Trudeau’s answer could stand as a minor masterpiece of diplomatic deflection:

“Canadians and Americans have stood together, worked together, at home and around the world. We’ve fought and died together in battlefields in World War I, and World War II, in Korea, in Afghanistan. But there have been times where we have differed in our approaches, and that’s always been done firmly and respectfully. The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose to govern themselves. My role, our responsibility, is to continue to govern in such a way that reflects Canadians’ approach and be a positive example in the world.”

For Canadians listening in, the most anxiously awaited question for Trump had to be the one about his plans for pushing for changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Depending on how one interprets his use of the word “tweaking,” Trump’s answer seemed to be meant to reassure Trudeau and, by extension, the U.S.’s northern neighbours:

“We’ll be tweaking [NAFTA], we’ll be doing certain things that are going to benefit both of our countries. It’s a much less severe situation than what’s taken place on the southern border. For many, many years the transaction was not fair to the United States, an extremely unfair transaction. We’re going to work with Mexico; we’re going to make it a fair deal for both parties. I think that we’re going to get along very well with Mexico. They understand and we understand… So our relationship with Canada is outstanding and we’re going to work together to make it even better. And as far as the southern border is concerned, we’re going to get that worked out. We’re going to make it fair. But we are going to make it so that everybody is happy.”