Harper At The United Nations: PM Lobbies Against Palestinian Bid For Statehood In Meeting With Israeli PM Netanyahu

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HARPER NETANYAHU
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, shakes hands with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a bilateral meeting at the United Nations Wednesday, September 21, 2011.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz | CP

UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. - It was bonhomie on a first-name basis in the midst of an intense United Nations showdown.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday for his friendship with Israel, as the Jewish state courts support to block the Palestinian bid for UN statehood recognition here later this week.

At a photo-op inside UN headquarters which oozed warmth, the Israeli leader heaped unabashed praise on his friend "Stephen" for Canada's support for the Middle East peace process.

Canadian officials had scrambled to arrange the meeting between Netanyahu and Harper. It came together in the final hours of the prime minister's two-day visit to New York, overshadowing Harper's earlier events at the New York Stock Exchange.

Harper was forced to confront an issue that has caused him political headaches in the past, instead of being able to bask in his comfort zone on his favoured topic, the economy.

"I'd be remiss — without delving too much into what's going on here — to say, that we all do look forward to the day where the two sides are at the bargaining table and making the tough decisions necessary to have two peaceful, secure democratic states," Harper told Netanyahu as cameras whirred during a crowded photo-op.

During the brief photo op, the two men both said the solution to the Israel-Palestinian impasse lies in a resumption of two-way peace talks, not a United Nations declaration of statehood for Palestine.

"We know that nobody wants this more than our friends in Canada and our friend, the prime minister of Canada," said Netanyahu. "I want to say Stephen, we have a lot in common."

The Israeli leader added: "Same heart and same values. And that I say with great appreciation for your stance, for your conviction, for your friendship."

Harper, an outspoken supporter of Israel, opposes efforts by the Palestinians to win United Nations recognition of statehood. He says that move won't help the Middle East peace process.

But Harper did not address the General Assembly, which confined his public expression of support of Israel to a choreographed handshake for the cameras before having a private discussion.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is to give Canada's speech to the General Assembly on Monday.

On Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama also met with Netanyahu, and later offered his support in his address to the General Assembly.

He said there would be no "shortcuts" to Middle East peace.

"Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations — if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now," Obama said in his speech.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy essentially agreed.

He proposed a one-year timetable for a peace accord between the Israelis and Palestinians.

"Let us cease our endless debates," Sarkozy said. "Sixty years without moving one centimetre forward, doesn't that suggest that we should change the method and the scheduling here?"

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is to speak to the assembly on Friday and wants to bring the statehood motion before the Security Council.

The United States says it's prepared to veto the motion.

Earlier Wednesday, Harper spoke to American business leaders at the New York Stock Exchange.

It was part of a day of events that was designed to focus on Harper's stewardship of the relatively strong Canadian economy, while trumpeting the "political stability" his new majority government would provide for investors.

The prime minister pitched Canada as a great place for long-term investment because of its stable political environment, sound public finances and low tax environment.

He held a one-hour roundtable with eight top-flight U.S. executives from firms such as Barclays Capital, Goldman Sachs and United Technologies Corp.

The prime minister awoke in Manhattan to grim front-page assessments of the state of the U.S. economy.

The International Monetary Fund said this week the global economy is entering "a new dangerous phase." The IMF issued a downgraded economic outlook for the United States and Europe through to 2012.

"We're more than aware that although we like to talk about how we have been out performing our peers, we're nevertheless clearly part of the general trajectory of the global economy," Harper said at the start of the meeting. "We're concerned about it, as you can imagine."

Harper also gave a series of interviews Wednesday to a number of U.S.-based media outlets, as he has done on past trips to New York.

His only availability with Canadian reporters in New York over two days here was a three-question scrum in a UN corridor on Tuesday.

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