Harper meets with Obama at OAS summit, will voice Canada’s hemispheric goals

PANAMA CITY — Prime Minister Stephen Harper held a one-on-one discussion on Saturday with U.S President Barack Obama as part of a busy day at the Summit of the Americas in Panama.

Obama and Harper had a brief conversation while they went for a walk together inside the convention centre where the summit was being held.

The conversation appeared light as the smiling leaders briefly passed news cameras.

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s Office could not immediately confirm the topic of their discussion.

Harper will speak to a plenary session where he will outline his government’s goals for the hemisphere, including the promotion of human rights, security and prosperity.

He is also expected to take part in some bilateral meetings — and would welcome a chance to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro.

Harper has had strong words in the past for the communist Cuban regime and initially opposed its participation at this year’s summit.

The Canadian government is encouraged with Cuba’s new direction as it seeks to normalize diplomatic relations with the United States, but Ottawa remains deeply concerned about human rights on the Caribbean island.

Cuba’s participation in the summit is far from the only change over the last three years.

Ottawa has strained relations with the U.S. over Obama’s move to veto a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. It also has a chillier friendship with Mexico ever since it tightened visa requirements for Mexican visitors.

Harper will also host a reception to promote this summer’s Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, to be held in the Toronto area.

On Friday evening, Harper had brief discussions with several leaders, including Mexican President Pena Nieto, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a spokeswoman said. He also met Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, an observer.

The Canadian Press

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