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Obama off to Canada to tighten ties

In Canada, the president's first foreign destination, the focus will be on rebuilding a deep alliance. Differences loom however, on climate change, protectionism, and troops in Afghanistan.

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President Obama tried to allay fears, saying Canadians "shouldn't be too concerned" about the "Buy American" clause. "Canada is one of our most important trading partners, we rely on them heavily ... it is not in anybody's interest to see that trade diminish," the president told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. on Tuesday.

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Meanwhile, both environmentalists and oil industry executives will be listening closely to the outcome of any discussions over energy.

Dispute looming over oil sands?

Environmentalists have been heavily critical of Harper's environmental record, particularly the widespread extraction of oil-rich sands in Alberta, and have recently been running ads in US newspapers, urging the Obama administration to "say no to dirty oil."

The industry is concerned that the president's aggressive green-energy plans and initiatives to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions will make their operations too costly. Harper has long touted Canada as an emerging energy superpower and has proposed a joint Canada-US climate regime as one way of blunting possible punitive regulatory measures from the United States.

Some political watchers believe energy issues may well be a flash point between the two leaders.

"It's a crucial economic issue and I don't think Canada has any reason to be confident on the successful outcome of this issue,'' says Prof. Paul Quirk, who specializes in US politics at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. "The US administration is likely to be quite avid in its concern for reducing the causes of climate change."

No push likely for more troops

And on the same day the president committed an additional 17,000 American troops to Afghanistan, Obama told the CBC that problems there can't be solved by military means alone. He said that the situation would also require diplomacy and development of a comprehensive strategy he hopes "that ultimately the people of Canada can support." Obama said he will be asking America's allies to ''think through" their approach to Afghanistan. Still, he fell short of asking Canada to reconsider its plan to pull its troops out at the end of 2011.

Since the 1920s, about half the first foreign trips of US presidents have been to Canada. The personal relationship between North America's two top leaders has varied over time. Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney famously celebrated their common heritage, most notably by taking to the stage and singing "When Irish Eyes are Smiling."

However, there was no love lost between Richard Nixon and Pierre Elliott Trudeau. In a well-publicized incident, Mr. Nixon used an expletive to describe Mr. Trudeau after a meeting in the Oval Office, prompting Trudeau to respond: "I've been called worse things by better people."