BOSTON – Canada’s foreign affairs minister used a trip to the United States to applaud that country’s reopening of relations with Cuba.
John Baird raised the issue during a news conference Saturday where he appeared alongside his counterparts from the U.S. and Mexico.
“We want to acknowledge the truly historic change in American policy, with respect to Cuba,” Baird said.
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“We are a country that believes that the more Americans – American values, American capitalism – that permeate Cuba, the freer the Cuban people will be.
“Not only was it about time – but it was actually at the perfect time.”
Sources say Baird’s remarks about perfect timing referred to a series of ongoing developments. One is economic, with the collapse of oil prices and its impact on Cuba’s main partner, Venezuela. Another is diplomatic, with several countries having threatened to boycott the next Summit of the Americas over the exclusion of Cuba.
The Canadian government played a cameo role in the discussions that led to the historic thaw, hosting a series of negotiating sessions between the Obama administration and the Castro government.
That process was such a tightly-guarded secret in Ottawa that the announcement in December even caught some high-ranking federal officials off-guard.
The news finally broke on Dec. 17, when U.S. President Barack Obama announced the shift in policy and thanked Canada and Pope Francis for their role in facilitating it. Prime Minister Stephen Harper later acknowledged that Canadian role, and also expressed his support for the shift.
The novelty of that announcement has since given way to thorny questions about how to untangle a pile of irritants that in some cases even predate the Cold War.
The Castro government has set conditions for normalizing relations that include closing the more than a century old U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, and lifting a trade embargo that the U.S. Congress is unlikely to reverse any time soon.
What has changed is that U.S. diplomats have already visited the island in an attempt to set up an embassy, visiting Cuba will become significantly easier for Americans, and U.S. companies will have opportunities there in a few limited areas.
Baird made the remarks after the North American foreign ministers met at the Boston home of Secretary of State John Kerry, and before a planned group outing to a Bruins hockey game. Baird joked that the meeting concluded with Kerry imploring everyone to, “get out of my house.”
One persistent irritant lingered over the otherwise chummy news conference, during which Mexico’s Jose Antonio Meade also saluted the shift with Cuba and Kerry said he’d become “good friends” in his two years working with his continental counterparts.
That perennial irritant was the Keystone XL pipeline.
Kerry is the lead cabinet member on the file, and is expected to make a recommendation soon on whether the president should allow the oil pipeline to cross the border from Alberta.
In response to a question about Keystone, Kerry simply offered a matter-of-fact summary of where the process is: there’s a deadline Monday for various federal departments to weigh in on the topic, and he’ll make a recommendation based on all the input.
“At that point it’s in our hands for me to make a recommendation to the president,” Kerry said.
“The president will make a decision at some point.”
Kerry didn’t provide a date for a decision. He just reaffirmed his plan to finish the normal regulatory process, which would have been circumvented by a pro-Keystone bill in Congress that the president has vowed to veto.
Baird, for his part, didn’t mention Keystone.
What he did, in his opening remarks, was speak about the importance of building energy infrastructure. Kerry’s opening remarks, on the other hand, dwelled on the importance of fighting climate change.
They both discussed the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which Baird referred to as a “death cult” and Kerry accused of hijacking the Islamic faith.