Harper, Putin discuss Syria crisis at APEC meeting
Published Friday, September 7, 2012 9:40AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, September 7, 2012 10:48PM EDT
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to be less obstructive toward finding progress on the Syria crisis.
Harper delivered that frank message to his host on Saturday at the APEC summit during a 55-minute face to face meeting.
"Obviously the government of Russia and ourselves have very different perspectives on this," Harper said.
"Obviously Mr. Putin has a different perspective but I urged Russia to play a more positive role than it's been playing."
Russia has blocked efforts by the United Nations Security Council to sanction its long time Middle East ally. Syrian President Bashar Assad has battled an 18-month uprising that has left at least 23,000 dead.
Harper reiterated his government's position that Assad must go to prevent further bloodshed.
Putin struck back at the West's criticism of his country earlier this week, saying al-Qaida militants were part of the anti-Assad forces.
The prime minister's bilateral meeting with his host came two days after Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird expressed Canada's disapproval of Russia's continued support of Syria's Assad regime with his counterpart Sergey Lavrov.
Harper and Putin also discussed the West's standoff with Iran. Harper said his decision to close Canada's embassy in Iran this week was one that he has been mulling since last year's attack on the British Embassy by frenzied mobs.
Harper said he was concerned about the safety of Canadian diplomats.
At a photo opportunity before their private meeting, Harper and Putin were all smiles, talking about trade and the 40th anniversary of the Canada-USSR hockey summit series.
Putin said he met some of the Canadian team members who had travelled to Russia and that he enjoyed talking with them.
Harper arrived Friday at the 21-nation APEC leaders' gathering, and began his first full day Saturday with a business roundtable before his face to face with the Russian president.
Putin kicked off the summit in the Russian city of Vladivostok amid unprecedented popular dissatisfaction with his presidency.
Putin faced large protests this past spring after his controversial re-election to the presidency.
He's also been attacked over last month's two-year prison sentence to members of the subversive punk band Pussy Riot for their anti-Putin "punk prayer" in Moscow.
The punishment has come to symbolize what many view as Russia's recent backslide on democracy.
Harper and his government have been quiet about the unrest in Russia in the weeks heading into the summit, stressing the economy will be his priority at APEC.