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Canada seeks larger world role as U.S. retreats: foreign minister

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will seek to play a larger role on the world stage as the United States retreats, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Tuesday, in remarks underscoring strains between Washington and its closest allies.

Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland delivers a speech on Canada's foreign policy in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Freeland spoke after recent NATO and G7 summits where U.S. President Donald Trump upset leaders to such an extent that German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed doubts about the reliability of the United States.

Freeland, noting “international relationships that had seemed immutable for 70 years are being called into question,” stressed the value of bilateral ties with the United States, traditionally seen as Canada’s closest friend. She also made clear those bonds might loosen.

“The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership, puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course,” she said in an address to Parliament.

“For Canada that course must be the renewal, indeed the strengthening, of the postwar multilateral order.”

Trump, elected on a promise to put “America first,” accused North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies of not picking up their fair share of military spending and then announced he was quitting the Paris climate change pact.

Hours after Freeland’s address, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office said he had spoken with Merkel and reaffirmed the two countries’ commitment to multilateralism and combating climate change.

A statement from Trudeau’s office said the leaders “agreed to continue working closely with likeminded partners” to implement the Paris agreement.

Freeland told Parliament Canada would “strive for leadership” in multilateral forums such as the G7, the G20, NATO, and the United Nations.

She said NATO and Article 5, the alliance’s mutual defense doctrine, lay at the heart of national security policy. Trump upset NATO leaders by not personally affirming his commitment to the article.

For Canada to play a larger role globally, it would need to make “a substantial investment” in its armed forces, she added. Officials are due to unveil additional military spending on Wednesday.

“Canadian diplomacy and development sometimes require the backing of hard power,” she said. Canada spends less than one percent of what the United States devotes to defense.

Freeland said Canada was deeply disappointed by the decision to leave the Paris pact but made no other criticisms of U.S. policy. Canada will soon start talks on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Editing by Diane Craft and Chris Reese