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Summit goal: Advance North America trade

| Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 8:27 p.m.

TOLUCA, Mexico — President Obama sought to reassure leaders of Mexico and Canada on Wednesday of his commitment to new trade agreements between Asia, the Pacific and the Americas, even as he faces political resistance in the United States from fellow Democrats.

Obama arrived earlier in the day in the industrial center of Toluca, about 40 miles west of Mexico City, for the start of a one-day North American Leaders Summit. Flanked by his trade negotiator and top Cabinet secretaries, Obama stepped off Air Force One and onto a red carpet to be welcomed by an honor guard. Cloudless skies and warm breezes set a sunny mood as Obama walked to his limo to be shuttled to an ornate government complex nearby.

Obama opened his trip with a bilateral meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, a discussion the U.S. leader said would focus in part on how to advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade bloc of 12 countries in the Americas, Asia and the Pacific. Obama said the partnership agreement offers the opportunity to open up new markets in the fastest-growing, most populous region of the world.

Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper met separately, strolling together through Toluca's lush botanical gardens. Canadian officials have voiced frustration at the amount of time the Obama administration has taken to decide whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from tar sands in western Canada 1,179 miles to Nebraska, where existing pipelines would then carry the crude to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

A Nebraska judge on Wednesday struck down a law that allowed the pipeline to proceed through the state, a victory for opponents who have tried to block the project.

Obama, Pena Nieto and Harper sat down for three-way summit in the evening, and Obama returned to Washington immediately, spending just about nine hours in Mexico.

The one-day meeting was being overshadowed by the violence that erupted half a world away in Ukraine as the government of President Viktor Yanukovych cracks down on protesters in Kiev. During brief remarks at the start of his meeting with Pena Nieto, Obama said the United States condemned the violence in Ukraine “in the strongest terms.”

Officials said the United States was weighing its options against those responsible for the violence, including consulting with the European Union on the use of sanctions. It's not the first of Obama's foreign trips to be eclipsed by unrelated events.

The summit occurs on the 20th year of the North American Free Trade Agreement among the three countries, a deal that has vastly expanded cross-border commerce in the region but that remains a contentious issue in the United States because of its impact on jobs and on environmental protections.

Trade experts say the agreement is due for an upgrade to take into account the current globalized environment and to address issues not touched in the original pact. But rather than reopen NAFTA, the three countries are relying on negotiations under way to complete the partnership pact.

The Obama administration is hoping those negotiations are completed this year.

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