LIMA, Peru—Canada and the U.S. stood shoulder-to-shoulder on Saturday as they condemned the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians and sounded a positive note about the ongoing North American free trade talks.
The unified front was presented during a highly anticipated meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas in Peru’s capital.
There had been expectations leading up to the meeting that NAFTA would dominate the discussion, particularly after conflicting messages from U.S. trade officials and President Donald Trump earlier in the week.
But that was before the U.S., Britain and France launched the joint airstrikes Friday in retaliation for a suspected chemical-weapons attack on April 7 that killed 43 people and injured hundreds more in a rebel-held enclave near Damascus.
With reporters’ cameras and tape recorders rolling, Trudeau told Pence that the airstrikes were “unfortunate, but necessary” to stop the Syrian government from launching further chemical-weapons attacks against civilians.
“This is something we cannot accept, the use of chemical weapons on civilians,” Trudeau said, “and the international community needs to continue to stand extremely strongly as we continue to hold Syria accountable.”
The Syrian government has denied responsibility for the attack, while Russia has pointed the finger at Israel and Britain.
The U.S., Canada and their allies have largely dismissed Damascus’s denials, but have not said how they know that the Syrian government was responsible.
For his part, Pence thanked Canada for backing the strikes and echoed Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron in saying Syria’s chemical-weapons facilities had been “degraded and crippled.”
At the same time, he warned that the U.S. was prepared to “sustain this effort if necessary,” though he expressed hopes that the combination of strikes and condemnation from countries like Canada would see Syria abandon such weapons.
While the crisis in Syria was front and centre, Trudeau and Pence also expressed optimism about the state of NAFTA negotiations, the results of which will have dramatic ramifications for the U.S. and Canada.
There had been hopes leading up to this weekend’s summit that an agreement might be signed, but that did not happen and instead, U.S. negotiators softened their demands on autos even as Trump said he will to renegotiate “forever.”
Pence, who was also scheduled to meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, struck a notably confident tone, saying U.S. officials “think we’re close” and were “encouraged at the progress of our negotiations.
“And we are hopeful that we can conclude a successful renegotiation of NAFTA that will result in greater prosperity and more fair and reciprocal trade between Canada, the United States and Mexico.”