Harper skips UN in favour of award

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Prime Minister Stephen Harper is skipping the United Nations General Assembly again this year, but he was in New York City anyway on Thursday meeting with global leaders and preparing to pick up an international statesman award.

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Prime Minister Stephen Harper is skipping the United Nations General Assembly again this year, but he was in New York City anyway on Thursday meeting with global leaders and preparing to pick up an international statesman award.

As the world watched both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, address the UN, Harper met with the Haitian president at a mid-town Manhattan hotel just a few blocks away.

Harper and Michel Martelly shook hands and exchanged pleasantries before getting down to the business of discussing the Canada-Haiti relationship.

The men focused on efforts to bring economic stability to the impoverished, long-suffering Caribbean island, the recipient of $1 billion in Canadian aid since 2006.

Harper also met with Henry Kissinger, the storied U.S. statesman, at his Park Avenue office. Kissinger will present Harper later Thursday with his “world statesman” award from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an inter-faith peace organization.

The prime minister also sat down later in the day with Abbas, and was scheduled to meet on Friday morning with Netanyahu. The Middle East peace process was the focus of the Harper/Abbas discussions.

In the Israeli prime minister’s address to the UN on Thursday, he cautioned that Iran will soon have amassed enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb, urging fellow world leaders to draw a “red line” to shut the Iranians down.

“I believe that faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down — and it will give more time for sanctions and diplomacy,” Netanyahu said.

“Red lines don’t lead to war, red lines prevent war . . . nothing could imperil the world more than a nuclear-armed Iran.”

Harper is onside with Netanyahu’s approach, and has taken a hard line against Iran. Canada recently closed its embassy in Tehran and Iran returned fire this week, issuing a travel advisory to its citizens to steer clear of Canada because it was rife with “Iranophobia.”

The Canadian prime minister was to be bestowed with the world statesman honour at the annual Appeal of Conscience dinner at the swank Waldorf-Astoria hotel. His office says he’s being recognized as “a champion of democracy, freedom, and human rights.”

Past winners include Canada’s Jean Chretien, Nicolas Sarkozy of France and former British prime minister Gordon Brown.

The event was taking place as hundreds of world leaders — absent Canada’s prime minister — gathered at the UN to discuss urgent global issues, including the situation in Syria, the ominous tensions between Israel and Iran and the eruption of anti-American violence in the Middle East.

Harper has faced a barrage of criticism back home for his decision to opt out of speaking to the UN again this year.

But he’s insisted it’s not standard procedure for the Canadian prime minister to address the General Assembly every year. The UN has met seven times since he was elected; Harper’s spoken twice, in 2006 and in 2010.

In his place, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird will once again address the UN on Monday

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