Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada is “not considering” a military mission to Mali, where an al Qaeda-affiliated terror group has taken hold in the country’s north.

Harper made the comments on Parliament Hill following a meeting with Thomas Boni Yayi, the president of Benin and the head of the African Union.

In a joint press conference, the pair announced a new Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA), which they said offers protections to investors in both countries that they hope will boost economic activity between the two nations.But the first question from a reporter was about the deteriorating situation in Mali, where the militant group Islamic Maghreb recently took advantage of a military coup to gain control in the north.

A UN Security Council resolution last month called on member states to contribute troops, equipment and other support to an African-led military mission to curb terror activity in Mali.

Harper said Tuesday that Canada is “very concerned about the situation,” but will concentrate its efforts in the region on contributing humanitarian aid and diplomatic negotiations with its allies in Africa and the West.

“The government of Canada is not considering a direct Canadian military mission,” Harper said, though he noted that, “the development of essentially an entire terrorist region in the middle of Africa is of great concern to the international community.”

Boni Yayi said he discussed the UN resolution with Harper and welcomed the prime minister’s diplomatic and humanitarian efforts. But he emphasized the need for international help to curb terror activity in Africa, and went so far as to call for the assistance of NATO troops.

“We need to react for the simple reason that not only does this issue go well beyond the scope of Africa, but also we must be focused on the fact that the scourge of terrorism is an issue of the entire international community,” Boni Yayi said.

The prime minister’s remarks were in step with what the office of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Monday, that Canada is “not contemplating a military mission” in Mali. But last week, Defence Minister Peter MacKay indicated that Canada would be willing to send military trainers to Mali.

After MacKay’s remarks, Baird’s office said Canada is not considering sending troops. On Monday, an anonymous official said Canada “will wait to hear what people are requesting, if they are requesting anything.”

The official said Monday that “nothing has been asked” of Canada yet.

The government’s position has angered former diplomat Robert Fowler, who was kidnapped by Islamic Maghreb militants in 2008. He and a fellow Canadian diplomat, Louis Guay, were taken captive in Niger, where Fowler was stationed at the time, and held for 130 days.

"The government has been asked. In the Security Council resolution 2085 of 20 December, the Security Council urges member states -- of which I believe Canada is still one -- to provide a whole set of things, including military training, provision of equipment, intelligence, logistics support and any necessary assistance to reduce the threat posed by terrorist organizations," Fowler told The Canadian Press.

"Therefore, we have been asked."

Christian Leuprecht, an economics and political science professor at the Royal Military College, said Tuesday that Canada has a long-standing relationship with Mali, having regularly contributed troops to a French-run military training centre there.

“So we have networks and we have connections that we can bring to bear,” Leuprecht told CTV News Channel, before Harper and Boni Yayi emerged from their meeting.

The challenge in Mali, according to Leuprecht, is two-pronged: convince the military leaders who overthrew the government last March to get out of politics and establish democratic reforms, and to help create a strong military force that can overcome militants in the north.

“It’s not just a military and security struggle on the ground, it’s also a struggle to seal military relations and at the same time, building and consolidating a professional military in Mali, and also building and consolidating democratic institutions in the aftermath of this coup that is really a west African problem,” Leuprecht said. “There are a number of unstable countries in this entire region, so there’s a real chance of a strong spillover effect if we can’t get things back on the road both in terms of democracy and in terms of trying to find a peaceful solution.”

In addition to discussing the situation in Mali, Harper and Boni Yayi talked trade and investment between the two countries, as well as how to promote economic growth throughout Africa.Harper said the new investment deal “will increase investors' confidence and bodes well for growth in both of our countries.”

Harper said Canada will also devote funds through the Canadian International Development Agency to help Benin with structural reforms, and will also assist with efforts to ramp up mining development.

With files from The Canadian Press