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Harper 'delighted' that Obama will visit Canada first

CALGARY - Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he's "delighted" that Barack Obama's first foreign visit will be to Canada after he becomes U.S. president.

CALGARY - Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he's "delighted" that Barack Obama's first foreign visit will be to Canada after he becomes U.S. president.

"I'm obviously delighted to see President Obama made Canada his first foreign stop," Harper said on a Calgary radio talk show Tuesday.

"I do think it is a statement that Americans across party lines - and I think most Canadians - understand that there is probably no closer and fraternal relationship in history than we have with the United States.

"It's important to both of us and we'll always do our best to make that a positive relationship."

During Obama's campaign last year for the Democratic nomination, he hinted that he might reopen the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

But a leaked diplomatic memo suggested his economic team had reassured Canadian officials he would keep the status quo.

Four of the last seven U.S. presidents have chosen Canada for their first international trip, although George W. Bush wasn't one of them. He visited Mexico first when he became president eight years ago.

When asked what Bush's legacy would be, Harper wouldn't answer, saying it would be too controversial for him to analyze the "obvious challenges" the U.S. faces as it makes the transition to a new leader.

But he did say he always found Bush willing to hear Canadian concerns, even if the two countries didn't always see eye to eye.

"He did listen. He did value Canada. I always found him to be a very frank guy. He told me what he could do and what he couldn't do, and, if he didn't agree, he told me he didn't agree."

Harper pointed to a deal the two countries reached to end a long-standing dispute over softwood lumber as an example of how Bush was willing to work with Canada.

"I didn't have the fireworks with him that at least one of my predecessors did. I found him to be a friend of Canada and to value the Canadian relationship.

"And I think we'll see the same thing with the next administration."

A date for Obama's Canadian visit has not yet been set. His presidential inauguration is next Tuesday.

Up for debate is what kind of personal relationship Obama and Harper might have.

Harper's Conservative government is scheduled to table a budget on Jan. 27 that could still be defeated in a non-confidence vote by a coalition of Liberals, New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois.

Since his historic election, Obama has set aside partisanship and stressed his willingness to consult and work with people from both ends of the political spectrum.

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