American Secretary of State John Kerry

Washington - Newly inaugurated Secretary of State John Kerry will hold his first bilateral talks on Friday, as he welcomes his Canadian counterpart John Baird to the State Department.

He will also meet with a delegation sent to the United States to represent South Korean president-elect Park Geun-Hye, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told journalists on Thursday.

Among the issues likely to be discussed between Kerry and Baird is the controversial $7-billion Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline, which is still awaiting a green light from the State Department.

The two leaders will “discuss ways to deepen co-operation across the extensive US-Canada relationship, including in bilateral trade, investment, energy security and environmental stewardship”, Nuland said.

But she reiterated that a vital environmental study had first to be completed on the Keystone project before a decision is made.

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.

Kerry will also wrap up his first week as secretary of state by joining talks with representatives of South Korea's president-elect Park, Nuland said.

The South Korean group was visiting the US “to discuss a range of bilateral issues, regional issues, global issues in advance of the transition there”, she said.

They had planned to meet with Deputy Secretary Bill Burns, and Kerry will “be there for some of that meeting”, she added. - AFP