Syria military mission not planned by Canada, Harper says
Prime minister says Canada supports its allies, convinced of risks if no action taken
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canada has no plans for a military mission of its own in Syria, although the government supports its allies and has been convinced of the need for "forceful action."
Harper said he was a late convert to the idea that there needs to be Western military action in Syria. But, he said, after speaking to the leaders of Britain, France and the U.S., he's convinced the risk of chemical weapons being more widely used is too great.
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"This is a very big risk and ... we do support our allies who are contemplating forceful action to deal with this. That said, at the present time the government of Canada has no plans, we have no plans of our own, to have a Canadian military mission," Harper said in Toronto.
"We have been and remain concerned when we look at this conflict that it is overwhelmingly sectarian in nature and does not have, at the present, any ideal or obvious outcomes."
After speaking with other world leaders, Harper said, "we are convinced that, notwithstanding our reluctance, that the risks of the international community not acting in the face of what appears to be an escalation, and likely further escalation without action, in the use of chemical weapons as a weapon of warfare is an extremely dangerous precedent."
Harper's response was carefully phrased and doesn't rule out the possibility that Canadian Forces members could join a mission, or that Canadian equipment could be used. Canada supplied a C-17 heavy-lift plane to transport troops and equipment for a UN-backed mission in Mali earlier this year.
On Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird met with George Sabra, president of the Syrian National Council, which opposes the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Baird said of the military plans mentioned in media reports, Canada wouldn't be able to contribute.
"There are discussions going on as to the exact nature of what our response could be. I think some have speculated in the media and elsewhere that it could involve cruise missiles or armed drones, neither of which Canada has," he said.
Baird said he agreed with comments by British Foreign Secretary William Hague that the world needs to respond to the use of chemical weapons.
"In 2013, that someone could use these type of weapons of mass destruction with impunity would not only set a very bad precedent for the ongoing conflict in Syria, but also, frankly, would give a green light to any dictator to use these weapons of mass destruction against their own people in future conflicts," Baird said in Montreal.
"We are of one mind that these weapons have been used and that a firm international response is needed."
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar told CBC's Evan Solomon that he agrees with the government's previously stated stance that the only solution in Syria is a political solution.
"To that end, I would like to see us pushing, with other allies including other middle powers – not just in NATO but outside of NATO as well – to push the Security Council to do the right thing."
He urged people to wait for the report from UN investigators, saying "history teaches us that we can't pre-judge and so we need to see what the facts are, and for the Canadian government I think it's important for us as a country to push for a political solution."
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