Harper professes preference for 'peaceful' Iran solution
Published Friday, March 2, 2012 7:51PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 7:37AM EDT
Prime Minister Stephen Harper sidestepped questions about whether he would support an attack on Iran as he met with reporters alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Ottawa on Friday, calling the potential of an Israeli strike "hypothetical."
Instead, Harper reaffirmed Israel's right to defend itself, professed the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran and said he'd like to see the two countries' differences resolved peacefully.
"We want to see a peaceful resolution of this situation, and want to see every action taken to (make that happen)," Harper said, during the brief Parliament Hill news conference.
Netanyahu, in Canada for a three-day visit, was more pointed.
"Everybody would like to see a peaceful solution where Iran gives up its nuclear program," he said. "It's important that the international community stop (Iran). All options should be left on the table."
Netanyahu called Iran's nuclear ambitions a "grave threat to peace and security in the world." The comments echoed recent remarks from Harper.
Both leaders called on Iran to end nuclear enrichment programs and permit international inspections of its nuclear program. But Netanyahu seemed cool on the idea of holding talks to that effect, suggesting Iran would try to enter into discussions as means of stalling, while continuing to work on creating nuclear weapons.
"The international community should not fall into this trap," he said.
Netanyahu's comments did not quell concerns that Israel is contemplating a pre-emptive strike. In the House of Commons, interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae pressed the government on the issue.
"We obviously do not want to see any military action," Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird replied.
Iran's nuclear ambitions and continuing violence in Syria are expected to dominate the talks all weekend.
The two leaders have often repeated beliefs that Iran would be quick to use nuclear weapons if provoked, prompting criticism from some factions in Canada. On Friday, Rae called on Harper to "reflect very much on where Canadians are on these important issues" and to serve as a "source of advice and expertise on peace and mediation" to Netanyahu.
He also urged Israel to seek an international consensus before taking action against Iran.
"We share a deep concern internationally about Iran's nuclear ambitions as well as Iran's horrific human rights record internally, and we believe above all, the steps taken to deal with Iran have to be steps taken on a multilateral basis," Rae told reporters at a news conference in Ottawa.
Former Canadian ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations Paul Heinbecker told CTV's National Affairs that under international laws there is "a big difference" between a pre-emptive and a preventive military strike on a country.
Pre-emptive strikes require strong evidence of immediate danger, he said. Otherwise, all other options, such as diplomacy and sanctions, should be exhausted before more extreme measures are taken, he said.
Moshe Ronen of the Centre for Israel and Jewish affairs said Israel has made it clear that a military strike on Iran would be the last resort. He said Israel needs "good advice" from "good allies" like Canada.
The Israeli prime minister will also meet with Gov. Gen. David Johnston at Rideau Hall at 4:30 p.m. Friday, and will observe the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday before speaking to Jewish community leaders and delegates at a breakfast meeting Sunday before leaving for the U.S. The two leaders' wives were said to be spending Friday together as well.
On Monday, Netanyahu will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama where both leaders will deliver a speech to a policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Iran is expected to dominate that meeting as well, but Obama has been reluctant to support the military option arguing instead that international sanctions are working.
Harper, on the other hand, has been a staunch supporter of Israel, even at the expense of Canada-U.S. relations.
Baird said during a trip to Israel last month the country has no greater friend than Canada.
Harper is also on the record stating he believes Iran is lying when it says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. The prime minister has referred to Iran as a "dangerous regime" because of the country's religious fanaticism.
He recently called Iran a "grave threat to peace and security" and said he has no doubts the country would use a nuclear weapon to further its religious and political objectives.
With files from The Canadian Press