Can't 'cherry pick' Mideast peace issues: Harper
Published Friday, May 27, 2011 4:57PM EDT
As the meeting of G8 leaders drew to a close, Prime Minister Stephen Harper rebuffed suggestions he convinced his peers to drop a call for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders from the summit's final communique.
When reporters peppered Harper with demands he explain whether he had objected to any of the language in the statement, the prime minister did not offer a direct answer.
Instead, Harper said it would be wrong to "cherry pick elements" of U.S. President Barack Obama's recent speech calling for Israel and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table with an eye on establishing two states based on the 1967 borders.
"In terms of being balanced and even-handed and tying to resolve the Middle East peace conference, all of the elements of that speech have to be looked at as a totality, and I think that's the basis on which we have to approach the situation," Harper told reporters gathered at the summit venue in Deauville, France.
In their summit-closing communique, the leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations called for the resumption of negotiations, but left out any reference to the controversial border demands.
"Negotiations are the only way toward a comprehensive and lasting resolution to the conflict. The framework for these negotiations is well known. We urge both parties to return to substantive talks with a view to concluding a framework agreement on all final status issues. To that effect, we express our strong support for the vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace outlined by President Obama on May 19, 2011," the communique states.
Harper skirted reporters' repeated demands to know what influence he had brought to bear on the final wording, however, going only so far to say the draft communique had omitted several Palestinian concessions suggested in Obama's speech.
"Such as, for instance, the fact that one of the states must be a Jewish state. The fact that the Palestinian state must be de-militarized. I think it's important that any statement on this be balanced, as was President Obama's," he said.
But in his closing remarks, the summit's host French President Nicolas Sarkozy made it clear the leaders had a significant difference of opinion.
"I think it's appropriate to talk about 1967 borders, because we can't talk about borders without specifying which ones," he said. "I think precisely what made Mr. Obama's speech courageous is that he evoked the 1967 borders."
Putting the 1967 borders on the negotiating table is seen by many as a good-faith means of showing Israel's willingness to make some concessions in the interest of peace, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has outright refused to consider it. To do so, he said, would make Israel too vulnerable to attack.
G8 pledges billions for 'Arab Spring'
Despite their differences on the question of Mideast peace, the latest G8 summit concluded with a total of $40 billion in aid for the first two Arab countries to oust their autocratic leaders -- Tunisia and Egypt.
In their final statement, the G8 leaders said members would also "mobilize substantial bilateral support to scale up this effort."
Of the $40 billion in pledges, $20-billion will come from international financial institutions such as the World Bank, another $10-billion from Gulf states with the remaining $10-billion in the form of bilateral aid from G8 members.
While in Deauville, Harper made it clear that Canada will not be funnelling any money into bilateral aid schemes, and will instead keep its focus on current multilateral commitments, including its increased contributions to aid banks in recent years.
But the prime minister revealed support for new measures to improve child and maternal heath in Asia and Africa, saying Friday that "all leaders are united in moving forward with the Muskoka Initiative" that was developed in Canada last year. The newly announced projects are aimed at helping women and children in Southern Sudan, Tanzania, Nigeria, Mali and Afghanistan.
In Deauville, the G8 leaders also called on other members of the Arab world to help Egypt and Tunisia regain their economic footing, following months of instability within their borders.
"In the short term, our collective aim is to ensure that instability does not undermine the process of political reform, and that social cohesion and macroeconomic stability are both sustained," the declaration from the G8 leaders said.
The G8 leaders also launched a partnership program in Deauville that is aimed at providing support to the fragile political leadership in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as fighting corruption and stabilizing the economies of the respective countries.
While Tunisia has asked the G8 for some $25 billion over the next five years, it seemed the initial pledges offered to its people in Deauville were well received by its leadership.
On Friday, Tunisian Finance Minister Jaloul Ayed said "we are really very satisfied by the very strong, very clear, very precise declarations that have come from the G8 nations and financial institutions -- bilateral agencies and development banks."
But he also said it is imperative that the G8 money flows quickly to the people who toppled Tunisia's prior regime.
"If they don't see very quickly that democracy is creating conditions for them to feel better, to feel more prosperous, we run the risk to see the democratic process fail in the end," Ayed said Friday.
Jenilee Guebert of the G8 Research Group at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Toronto said the pledges made in Deauville are only a starting point.
"This isn't the end, additional funding will likely come from other sources after the G8, and I think they'll be satisfied with at least the ball starting to roll," Guebert told The Associated Press.
Calls to extend Libya mission
The G8 leaders also voiced concern that the ongoing fighting in Libya and the crackdown against protesters in Syria could derail the pro-democracy movement that has swept the Arab world.
In their final statement, the G8 leaders said embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi "must go" and they called on the Syrian government to "stop using force and intimidation" against its people.
But, likely due to Russia's wholesale opposition to the NATO bombing campaign in Libya, the summits final statement did not include an explicit endorsement of that military mission.
Harper told reporters Friday that he believes the mission in Libya has shown evidence that "the power of the Gadhafi regime continues to be degraded," with Libyan rebels holding their ground.
The prime minister said he will seek an extension of Canadian involvement in the Libyan mission from Parliament in June.
With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press