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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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Energy issues: Canada is the largest supplier of energy to the US, with much of it in the form of natural gas and oil, including petroleum from this refinery in Edmonton.

Dan riedhuber/reuters

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The economic crisis, a highly contentious trade issue, and energy will dominate the agenda as Barack Obama makes his first foreign visit as president, meeting with Canada's prime minister in a whirlwind tour Thursday.

President Obama hinted Tuesday that he hopes to find continued military support from Stephen Harper in Afghanistan beyond 2011. But if his conciliatory tenor – evident in a television interview aired in Canada in advance of the meeting – is any indication, the president appears to be using his maiden foreign visit to send a broader diplomatic signal: America wants to rebuild its alliances.

At the very least, the meeting with Canada's prime minister is expected to set the tone for relations for years to come. And although the Canadian leader's ideological views are more closely attuned to Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, the shared economic problems of both nations are likely to bridge partisan divides, analysts say.

"They're in the same boat, facing the realities of the world situation, so they will certainly be working together," says Colin Robertson, an expert in Canada-US trade relations. "The focus here for Obama – as it has been at home – is jobs. It's an integrated economy. We don't just trade things anymore. We make things together, so the emphasis is going to be on how we make things better together."

World's largest trading partnership

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