Netanyahu heaps praise on Canada

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in New York on Sept. 28.  [Avi Ohayon/GPO photo]

Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York Friday, September 28 to discuss the threat of Iran.

Netanyahu – fresh from his address to the United Nations General Assembly a day earlier, where he urged the international community to set clear “red lines” regarding Iran’s nuclear program – heaped praise on Harper during a photo session.

“Stephen, I think that what you did, severing ties with Iran, was not only an act of statesmanship, but an act of moral clarity,” Netanyahu said, referring to Canada’s shuttering of its embassy in Tehran and the expulsion of all Iranian embassy staff in Ottawa last month.

Harper said he was “delighted” to see Netanyahu again. The two last met when the Israeli leader visited Ottawa this past March.

During their one-hour meeting at New York’s Loews Hotel, the two leaders spoke about Middle East issues, including the peace process and the need to counter the regional and global security threat posed by Iran. Harper repeated his desire to see a peaceful resolution to the situation in Iran, his office said in a statement.

The two leaders also discussed energy issues and the economy, in particular the importance of modernizing the Canada-Israel free trade agreement, Harper’s office said.

The leaders met the morning after Harper told a private audience gathered in his honour that the international community needs to increase pressure on Iran and that Canada under his watch will, “when confronted with evil in the world, take strong, principled positions in our dealings, whether popular or not.”

Harper was in town to receive the New York-based Appeal of Conscience Foundation’s “World Statesman of the Year Award” on Sept. 27. The non-profit’s founder, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a Holocaust survivor, called the prime minister a man who “cares for all humanity.”

The foundation was created in 1965 as an interfaith “coalition of business and religious leaders” to promote peace, tolerance and ethnic conflict resolution, according to its website.

In his acceptance speech, Harper cautioned that western democracies are facing a time of historic insecurity and that Canada will continue to support and defend Israel, which he said is on the front lines of terrorism and is potentially the first victim of a nuclear-armed Iran.

“Some new powers are neither sure friends nor implacable foes,” Harper said. “Other countries, however, constitute unambiguously a clear and present danger and thus demand a very sober assessment. First among these is the government of Iran.”

He added: “In supporting Israel, we don’t sanction every policy its government pursues. When, however, it is the one country of the global community whose very existence is threatened, our government does refuse to use international fora to single out Israel for criticism.

“And it is important to state, that whatever Israel’s shortcomings, neither its existence nor its policies are responsible for the pathologies present in that part of the world.

“And we are also mindful of a lesson of history, that those who single out the Jewish people as a target of racial and religious bigotry will inevitably be a threat to all of us.

“Indeed, those who so target Israel today are, by their own words and deeds, also a threat to all free and democratic societies.”

His remarks came a day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the General Assembly and just hours after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke to the UN.

Both leaders took the opportunity to lambaste Israel in their speeches.

Harper met with Abbas earlier in the day to discuss the Middle East peace process and the situations in Syria and Iran.

But he avoided the UN gathering in favour of attending the foundation gala. Foreign Minister John Baird was scheduled to give Canada’s address to the international body on Oct. 1.

Both the NDP and Liberal parties criticized Harper for not appearing at the UN.

Speaking to the National Post last week, Paul Dewar, the NDP’s foreign affairs critic, chastised the prime minister for treating the UN as “something that is more of an irritant, frankly, than a constructive place for finding solutions to very complicated problems.”

Meanwhile, interim Liberal leader Bob Rae told the Post that Harper had “missed an opportunity to express himself clearly… as leaders from around the world have done. I think the message is that Canada, that the Harper government doesn’t care about the United Nations.”