Harper avoids backing Netanyahu's call for 'red line' on Iran

Benjamin Netanyahu continues to praise Canada for suspending diplomatic ties with Iran. But neither Prime Minister Stephen Harper nor Defence Minister Peter MacKay will back the Israeli prime minister's call for a "red line" to translate the world's condemnation of Iran into practice.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay says red lines have been placed already, 'open for interpretation'

Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu calls Prime Minister Stephen Harper 'a real statesman' and 'a great champion of freedom and a great friend of Israel,' but Harper is careful not to endorse Netanyahu's 'red line' plan 3:26

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Canada for suspending diplomatic ties with Iran, calling Prime Minister Stephen Harper "a real statesman" and "a great champion of freedom and a great friend of Israel" as the two leaders met in New York Friday.

Harper and Netanyahu shook hands and posed for photos Friday morning.

Netanyahu addressed the UN General Assembly this week. Harper arrived in New York Thursday to meet with several world leaders but will not address the UN.  

"I think the work you did severing ties with Iran was not only an act of statesmanship but of moral clarity," Netanyahu said, adding the Canadian decision had set an example for other nations, including countries who attended a summit of countries from the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran last month "and said nothing."

Netanyahu once again called on the international community to draw a "red line" on Iran. The Israeli prime minister argues a military strike will be necessary and justified if the Iranian regime continues to move toward developing nuclear weapons, and wants the international community to "translate the agreement and principle of stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons into practice."

"In practice, that means setting red lines on their enrichment process. It's their only discernible and vulnerable part of their nuclear program," Netanyahu said. "I think that if such red lines are set, I believe that Iran will back off."

Harper also spoke about Iran as he met with Netanyahu Friday morning.

 "Our country has not been shy about warning the world of the danger the Iranian regime ultimately presents to all of us," he said.

But Harper did not comment on Netanyahu’s call for a "red line." Instead, he restated Canada’s position that it hopes the crisis in Iran can be brought to a peaceful conclusion.

"We want to see a peaceful resolution and we work closely with our allies to try to alert the world to the danger this presents and the necessity of dealing with it," Harper said.

Red lines 'open to interpretation': MacKay

Defence Minister Peter MacKay faced more questions about Canada's precise position on Israel's "red line" during a Washington news conference Friday morning after his meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta.

"There have been a number of red lines placed already," MacKay said. "Iran has edged closer and stepped over those red lines on a number of occasions now, particularly when it comes to cooperation around the subject of inspections."

MacKay called the rhetoric coming from the Iranian regime "unnerving in the extreme."

Canada walked out on Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech at the General Assembly this week.

"The achieving of nuclear capability is the red line, when and where that kicks in I guess is open to interpretation," the Canadian defence minister said.

Earlier, Panetta said that the American position remains that it "will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon."

"This is not about containment, this is about prevention," the American defence secretary said.

MacKay confirmed that Canada's Sept. 7 decision to suspend its diplomatic ties, close its embassies and kick out Iranian diplomats was made after consultation with its allies, including the United States.

Canada's preferred alternative remains sanctions and diplomatic pressure, MacKay said, but "unfortunately those opportunities are becoming less and less obvious and less and less effective."

"The Israelis are going to make their own decisions," MacKay said. "Trying to shift the attitudes of this regime has proven to be enormously  challenging."