UNITED NATIONS — Canada will soon be weighing the possibility of an extended military role in the Middle East, Prime Minister Stephen Harper indicated Wednesday.
Harper said he has just recently received a request from the U.S. government for further Canadian involvement in the fight against Islamist rebels.
“We have to have some additional debate within our government,” he said Wednesday during a question-and-answer session in New York before an audience of U.S. business leaders.
“The government of Canada will make a decision on that very shortly.”
When pressed about the possible new engagement, Harper declined to offer details because the U.S. government “didn’t make the letter public.”
But he did say the world can’t allow terrorists to gain safe havens like the one that has developed in eastern Syria and western Iraq.
A government official, not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said the U.S. request has been part of a natural progression of events and came as no surprise to the government.
“We’ve been working closely with the Americans, who have been trying to build a coalition for quite some time,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“We’ve been involved in those discussions.”
The official said the Canadian government has always made it clear it “that it would be prepared to do more as requests came in.”
Harper will need to discuss the matter further with his cabinet, and also with opposition party leaders before any decisions are made, the official added.
Wednesday’s conversation with the Wall Street Journal’s editor-in-chief also delved into some of the sociological aspects of the fight against the al-Qaida splinter group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Some of the terrorists who carry Western passports can hardly be called Muslims; some of them apparently don’t even attend mosque, Harper said.
He also suggested that Middle Eastern hostility to the West is nothing new. Harper said there’s been a constituency for that since the Crusades.
At that point the editor-in-chief, Gerard Baker, interjected: “Of course they had a point, during the Crusades.”
That was just one snippet of a free-flowing conversation in New York’s financial district, where the high-profile newspaperman pressed Harper on a number of fronts.
Baker mentioned Canada’s relatively strong economic performance, but he pushed Harper on the relative weakness of some Canadian energy sectors beyond energy, and whether Canada’s recent economic performance hadn’t softened a bit.
At the end of the conversation, he was asked for advice he might offer U.S. conservatives.
Harper talked about immigrants — and how his party had turned “small-c conservatives into big-C conservatives.”
“We began our appeal by showing up,” he said. “That’s been the big transformation of politics in out country… It’s why we have come to office, and stayed in office.”