INTERVIEW

‘We’re not a country that lives in splendid isolation. Sometimes we have to go to these faraway places and respond directly.’

August 7 2006
INTERVIEW

‘We’re not a country that lives in splendid isolation. Sometimes we have to go to these faraway places and respond directly.’

August 7 2006

‘We’re not a country that lives in splendid isolation. Sometimes we have to go to these faraway places and respond directly.’

INTERVIEW

PETER MACKAY, MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, TALKS TO KENNETH WHYTE ON THE EVE OF THE ROME SUMMIT TO END HOSTILITIES IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Q Does what we’re witnessing right now with Canada’s response to the situation in the Middle East represent a fundamental shift in Canada’s approach to the region in favour of Israel or just a particular response to a particular problem?

A: I think it’s an evolution and a maturity on the part of Canada towards the often fluid and volatile situation in the Middle East. I wouldn’t call it a shift, I would call it keeping up with current events.

Q: The notion that Canada is an honest broker and a neutral party in foreign affairs has been predominant for some time. Are we seeing more emphasis on asserting principles than on being a neutral party?

A: I would say that we are being responsive and assertive in our foreign policy direction, and that comes from the top and it comes from a recognition within the entire government that we have an important role to play in the world, we have important values that we stand for, and it’s not enough to just talk about the importance of diplomacy and talk about protection of human life. In some cases it means actually being assertive, and in some cases even being ahead of other countries in making those declarations. We’ve seen it with the situation with Hamas in the Middle East as far as our decision to try to help the Palestinian people by diverting money not through the Palestinian Authority but directly through aid agencies and non-

governmental organizations, we’ve seen it with the listing of the Tamil Tigers.

Q: If we are going to be more active and assertive, do we have the wherewithal to back that up? If there is a multinational force going into southern Lebanon in the nearfuture, can we commit anything to it?

A: As for the go-forward in the Middle East, what that robust international force will look like is yet to be determined, and there has been no specific asked—nor has there been, I’m quick to add, a commitment from any other country—and so we are looking at the total package and the total picture here, more so the humanitarian effort, more so the diplomatic effort at this point.

Q: To be assertive and to have a voice at the table is one thing, but you do need to be able to ante up when the time comes and say we’re going to put feet on the ground somewhere.

A: That’s true.

Q: We have relatively weak capabilities—very good people but not a large contingent of combat-ready soldiers. How do we get to a position where we are capable of backing our talk?

A: First of all, we do have a great deal of depth and talent and dedication in our diplomatic corps, and we’ve been doing... I would suggest we’ve been doing more than just showing up on the international scene, because of the hard work, and that work ethic and commitment from our people in the field. I think in particular of the Canadian provincial reconstruction team that’s going flat out in Afghanistan right

now where you have people from CIDA partnering, in some cases, with NGOs, and doing incredible—I mean, just heroic—work on behalf of Canada. But it’s a massive and complicated undertaking for Canada to, in many cases, be at the table with other G8 nations and at the same time recognize our limitations when it comes to military capacity. This was recognized very early on by the Prime Minister and members of the government, and it’s something that we’ve taken steps—I would suggest very quickly— to remedy. And you see that with the procurement projects that we have undertaken, our commitment to the Armed Forces is nothing short of solid and real as far as our willingness to give them the proper equipment, the tools to do the job.

Q: How far is Canada willing to go in this situation in support of Israel? Would you back a full-scale invasion of southern Lebanon?

A: Look, there’s no discussion, as far as I’m concerned, about Canada backing a fullscale invasion. What we are looking for—and I think all countries are looking for—is an end to the violence in the short term, but the important adjunct to that is a longer-term solution. Just having a ceasefire or just having one country try to impose its will on the other is not going to work—that has sadly been the tragic history of the region—and so this idea that we have tied ourselves in with the Americans or the Israelis I don’t think is truly accurate. What we’ve done is we’ve tied ourselves in with the G8, we’ve very much, as signato-

ries to the G8, talked about a progressive plan with specific steps that have to be followed. And you know those, the return of the soldiers, the ceasefire, the discontinuation of artillery launches from both inside Lebanon with Hezbollah and similarly for all parties— including Israel—to exercise the utmost restraint. And I think implicit in all of that is the respect for civilians’ well-being, and that includes, of course, protection of critical infrastructure.

Q: Are we at war in Afghanistan right now?

A: Look, we’re at war against terrorism globally, and Afghanistan has been the hotbed and the incubator for terrorism, and so we’re playing a very important role there. We’re involved in a very challenging undertaking when it comes to the suppression of terrorism—the Taliban specifically—and the support for the Afghan government, and that includes not just logistical and military support, it includes capacity-building when it comes to roads, hospitals, schools, and it also includes support for the existing government there and the spread of democracy. The on-the-ground humanitarian work that’s being done in some cases is given very short shrift, due, as you might expect, to the attention that’s placed on the military presence—but one doesn’t happen without the other.

Q: You’ve mentioned a lot of different forms of aid that Canada’s involved in, but overall our aid budget is not really that large, in fact. In terms of the amount of money that goes out, I think Bill Gates may be outstripping us. Do we have any plans to increase the level of foreign aid?

A: Well, there is a commitment from the platform to bring foreign aid in line with our global partners relative to our own GDP, and humanitarian aid—done, for the most part, through CIDA—will increase this year.

Q: Maclean’s has shown a lot of interest in the case of a man named Ramin Jahanbegloo who’s a respected Canadian intellectual and a man of good sense and moderation in prison on what appear to be spurious charges...

A Yes, in Iran. He’s in the same prison, as you probably know, as Kazemi was.

Q: That’s right. Can you shed any light on his situation? Your government has been relatively quiet so far.

A: Yeah, that comes with good reason. The concerns expressed by the family early on were that attempts by the Western world— Canada, the United States and others—to approach Iran on this might lead to harm to him. Well, it’s gone far beyond that now, and there are grave concerns about his wellbeing. I’ve spoken to a number of people,

including the diplomats here in Canada, and I’ve approached a number of my counterparts, trying to get a more engaged and active front and pressure from other countries as well, because the Iranians have essentially rebuffed any Canadian attempts to bring Mr. Jahanbegloo home. And to date they have been completely unresponsive, even insofar as acknowledging Canada’s interest in this case.

Is there anything further we can do? I mean, why notsend the ambassador home if they’re being entirely unresponsive?

A: That is one consideration, but as soon as you turn off the only channel of information directly to their government on this file, that would be, I would suggest, a final step, and I’m not sure what impact—if any—that would have. So we’re going to pursue all available options and continue to try to pressure the Iranian government.

Q: It’s unlikely another situation like the evacuation from Lebanon is going to happen again in the near future, but what have we learned from it? What would we do differently?

A: Well, we’re ironically in a process right now, with Treasury Board, of examining our resources at all of the embassies and consular sites around the world.

Q: One last question. There was a public opinion poll that indicated Canada’s recent position on Israel was at best mixed, and other polls in recent weeks have shown that the war in Afghanistan is not terribly popular. If we are going to be more assertive in foreign policy, if we are going to play more of a leading role, and if we need more resources in order to do all that, have you guys got a big sales job ahead of you?

A: I think one of Canadians’ greatest qualities is their desire to help and their commitment in particular to help fellow citizens, and then beyond that to look at the broader world. If that means having a greater capacity to do so, it obviously involves operability of our military...

Q:But they want to see us as helping and not as belligerents, no?

A:That’s right, and they need to understand that in order to do the humanitarian work on the ground in some cases—in many cases—that involves bringing an end to the violence. And there are different theories on this, but the traditional view of peacekeeping has changed. It’s not simply standing between two warring parties now and asking them to stop. In some cases, and I would suggest in particular when it comes to terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, and the Taliban, and al-Qaeda, they’re not

there for a discussion, they’re there in some cases to annihilate another country, to bring violence, and so that takes a robust engagement. Canada in the past has been a participant in these operations around the world including two world wars, including what we were able to accomplish in Korea and other conflicts, and so there’s a new generation of Canadians who I think are yet to fully comprehend just how challenging it is to bring about a lasting peace, as with this recent example in the Middle East. We’re not a country that lives in splendid isolation. These events affect us directly, and sometimes we have to go to these faraway places and respond directly.

Q: I think it’s laudable for a government to try and take a leading role in international

The idea we have tied ourselves in with the Americans or the Israelis I don’t think is truly accurate’

affairs, but ifthegovenunent can’t lead opinion at home it’s going to have a hard time doing it.

A: There is clearly the necessity in a democratic country like ours to have the involvement and the diplomatic debate and the information available, and so those are all multi-faceted challenges that we’re aware of, and it’s not always easy in the middle of a crisis to communicate and to telegraph your every move. I think one of the examples of this exercise is when you’re trying to get people out quickly and you have hostilities all around you, you don’t always want to broadcast your plans, especially when terrorists are involved. M