Kerry, Baird: Keystone, hockey, mais pas de francais from new secretary of state

WASHINGTON – John Kerry welcomed Canada’s foreign affairs minister on Friday to the U.S. State Department, where TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline was a key topic of discussion despite the new secretary of state remaining publicly non-committal on the controversial project.

“I hope we will be able to be in a position to make an announcement in the near term,” Kerry, a fierce climate hawk during his 28 years in the U.S. Senate, told a joint news conference with John Baird in the State Department’s ornate Treaty Room.

“I don’t want to pin down exactly when, but I assure you, in the near term,” he said. “We have a legitimate process that is underway and I intend to honour that.”

Kerry also noted that Canada is the largest foreign supplier of energy for the United States, something “many people in America are not aware of.”

The State Department, currently reviewing TransCanada’s latest application for the pipeline, will decide the fate of Keystone XL because it crosses an international border.

The $7 billion project, which would carry Alberta oilsands bitumen to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries, has become a flashpoint for U.S. environmentalists, who view it as a symbol of “dirty oil.”

“We had a good discussion with regard to Keystone,” Baird said.

“We spoke about making a decision based on science and based on facts. Obviously when it comes to the environment, I think we have like-minded objectives.”

Baird is the first foreign minister to sit down with Kerry since the longtime Massachusetts lawmaker replaced Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

Kerry spoke warmly of the Canada-U.S. relationship.

“We have a history and a heritage of our people that is unbelievably connected,” he said. “We have the same entrepreneurial spirit. We have the same core beliefs that everybody ought to be able to find their place in life to do better.”

But despite knowing some French, Kerry declined to answer a question en francais.

“Not today, I gotta refresh myself,” he said with a smile.

The rapport between the two men seemed friendly as they addressed the packed news conference. And, as always when a Canadian politician visits an American counterpart, there was hockey talk.

“We dove right into the toughest issues … we began with hockey,” said Kerry, an lifelong hockey enthusiast and devout Boston Bruins fan.

“He, from Ottawa, is a fan of the Senators. And I want you to know it’s the first time I’ve ever heard someone talk well of senators, so I’m grateful for it.”

But it wasn’t all hockey and Keystone. The men told the assembled media that they discussed a wide array of issues, including the threat of a nuclear Iran and the ongoing crisis in Syria.

“The foreign minister and I talked about this at length, at length,” Kerry said of Syria. “We both share a deep concern about what is happening there. I am going to focus on it quite considerably.”

Both Baird and Kerry also reiterated that Iran must be prepared to address global concerns about its nuclear program during upcoming nuclear talks with international representatives in Kazakhstan.

If it does so, Kerry added, the international community will respond accordingly.

“We are prepared to let diplomacy be the victor in this confrontation over their nuclear program,” Kerry said.

“The president has made it clear that he is prepared to talk about a peaceful nuclear program …. Iran has a choice: they have to prove to the world that it is peaceful, and we are prepared to sit responsibly and negotiate how they can do that and how we can all be satisfied.”

Kerry didn’t answer a question about whether there were any concerns in the U.S. capital about allegations of a Canadian connection in two recent terrorist attacks.

Algeria claims Canadians were involved in last month’s terrorist attack on a gas plant. And a man who held both Canadian and Lebanese citizenship was involved in a deadly bus bombing in Bulgaria last July.