Baird presses for Mideast peace talks to resume
Palestinian foreign minister praises Canada's previous aid program
Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has held a series of meetings in the West Bank, where he encouraged the Israeli government and Palestinian leadership to resume peace talks.
"We obviously believe that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority should, without preconditions, go back to the negotiating table," he said during a media briefing Saturday in Ramallah, where he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told reporters there is a desire by Canadian and Palestinian officials to "move forward" on bilateral relations, and for Canada to "continue its commitment to state-building."
Al-Maliki called Canadian support in previous years "remarkable" and said it has made a "big difference, especially in the justice and security sectors."
The Canadian foreign minister did not say if his government would be renewing its $300 million in aid spending for Palestinians, a five-year commitment which officially expired last month. But he said he listened to the Palestinian leaders' priorities for the future and looked forward to "continuing constructive engagement" with the region.
"We certainly don’t agree on every issue — we have some profound differences of opinion on the way forward — but not on the need to go forward," Baird said.
Those profound differences go back to November, when the Palestinians were seeking enhanced recognition at the UN General Assembly. That's when Baird went to New York to register Canada's "no" vote in balloting that saw the UN grant Palestinians non-member observer state status.
Baird's comments on Mideast talks comes amid a recent flurry of international activity aimed at re-energizing the peace process following U.S. President Barack obama's visit to the Middle East last month.
Baird is scheduled to meet with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will be in Jerusalem and the West Bank for an official visit on Wednesday and Thursday. It will be his third visit to Israel since taking over at the State Department.
With files from Derek Stoffel and The Canadian Press