The United States will make a decision soon on the fate of a controversial Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline, new Secretary of State John Kerry vowed Friday, as he met his Canadian counterpart.
In a sign of the strong ties between the two North American neighbors, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird was the first foreign leader to be met by Kerry at the State Department since he took over the job a week ago.
"The Keystone XL pipeline is a huge priority for our government and for the Canadian economy," Baird told a joint press conference after their talks, adding that they had "a good discussion and exchange on energy policy."
Kerry noted that a review is under way by the State Department to determine whether to approve the $7 billion plan, which would see oil flow from the tar sands of Alberta down to the southern US state of Texas.
His predecessor Hillary Clinton had "put in place a very open and transparent process, which I am committed to seeing through," Kerry said.
"I can guarantee you that it will be fair and transparent, accountable. And we hope that we will be able to be in a position to make an announcement in the near term."
The State Department has said there would be no final decision on the pipeline before March 31.
The project cleared a key hurdle last month when the governor of Nebraska approved a new route that avoids an environmentally sensitive area.
President Barack Obama last year denied approval for the pipeline in part because of Nebraska's initial objections.
Despite the revised route, environmentalists continue to attack the project because the oil concerned is a heavy, carbon-intensive fuel that boosts emissions of greenhouse gases, blamed for global warming.
Canada is the largest foreign source of oil for the United States.
The Keystone XL pipeline would bring 830,000 barrels of oil per day to the Gulf coast, easing US reliance on less stable sources.
TransCanada, the operator of the project, said last month that the pipeline would boost energy security and create jobs.
"The need for Keystone XL continues to grow stronger as North American oil production increases and having the right infrastructure in place is critical to meet the goal of reducing dependence on foreign oil," said TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling.
"It remains in America's national interests to approve a pipeline that will have a minimal impact on the environment."