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Freeland travels to Washington to talk tariffs, trade and terrorism



WASHINGTON — The U.S. will continue to lead the fight against Islamic State militants in the Middle East, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted Wednesday —  notwithstanding President Donald Trump’s apparent impatience of late at getting American soldiers out of Syria.

Pompeo made the commitment as he kicked off the annual gathering of ministers, dignitaries and officials at the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, a 79-member group that includes Canada. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland was late to the party, missing the morning session and the midday group photo thanks to weather delays in Toronto.

“The drawdown of troops is essentially a tactical change — it is not a change in the mission,” Pompeo said in his opening remarks.

“It does not change the structure, design, or authorities on which the campaign has been based. It simply represents a new stage in an old fight. The drawdown will be well-co-ordinated, and our policy priorities in Syria remain unchanged.”

Trump, fresh from a state of the union speech in which he doubled down on pulling out of “endless wars,” was scheduled to speak to the group later in the day — a late change in the schedule that appeared aimed at placating coalition members fearful that a U.S. withdrawal would spark a resurgence in the Islamic State, a group also variously known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh.

“Our mission is unwavering, but we need your help to accomplish it, just as we’ve had over these past months and years,” Pompeo said. “To that end, we ask that our coalition partners seriously and rapidly consider requests that will enable our efforts to continue. And those requests are likely to come very soon.”

Terrorism wasn’t the only issue on Freeland’s mind. She was to meet Wednesday with Sen. Jim Risch, the Indiana Republican who helms the Senate committee on foreign relations, and on Thursday with Sen. Chuck Grassley, head of the Senate finance committee, to talk tariffs and trade.

A spokesman for Freeland said the minister is keen to talk to members of Congress about the importance of ratifying the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and the economic imperative of convincing the Trump administration to lift its tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Trump didn’t mention the metals tariffs Tuesday night, but he did urge the joint session of Congress to approve the agreement, which he billed as a vast improvement over the “historic trade blunder” of NAFTA.

“I hope you can pass the USMCA into law so we can bring back our manufacturing jobs in even greater numbers, expand American agriculture, protect intellectual property, and ensure that more cars are proudly stamped with our four beautiful words: ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ ”

A number of Democrats, as well as some Republicans, have expressed misgivings about the new agreement, in particular what Democrats say is a lack of enforcement tools for the deal’s labour and environment provisions. While some issues could be dealt with in the implementation bill on which members would vote, ratification is far from certain.

Some on Capitol Hill, including Texas Republican Kevin Brady, the ranking member on the House ways and means committee, have suggested Congress may resist bringing the agreement to a vote unless the tariffs are lifted.

Grassley has suggested a different approach: pull out of the underlying NAFTA agreement if it becomes impossible to satisfy Congress without going back to the negotiating table, widely seen as a non-starter.

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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