David Jacobson’s comments come after Prime Minister Stephen Harper slammed Russia for supporting the “thugs of the Assad regime” and ostracized the country by calling the G8 “the G7 plus one.” He also described President Vladimir Putin’s position as not “justifiable” and predicted no consensus unless the Russian leader had a “big shift of position” on Syria.
In a far-reaching interview with CBC News Network’s Power & Politics, Jacobson said he does not predict a showdown, even though the U.S. will arm Syrian rebels while Russia supports Assad. Instead, he expressed optimism that progress could be made at the summit in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland.
“We’ve explained to the Russians repeatedly that it’s in their interests for this thing to be solved amicably. I’m hopeful that they are going to be able to work something out. They’re all there at the G8, they’re all meeting at the G8 and I think we’re going to just have to wait to see what comes out of it,” he told host Evan Solomon.
“But it is a tragic situation. It is a situation that is just fraught with human horror, and the sooner we can bring this thing to a close, the better.”
U.S. President Barack Obama has said his country will increase aid to rebel groups after confirming the Syrian regime had deployed chemical weapons. But Jacobson, who will leave his ambassador’s post next month after four years in Ottawa, said details have not yet been worked out.
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“I think we’re still trying to sort out exactly what, when and how, and what the Russians do is going to have an impact on that. But I don’t believe this is going to escalate into some enormous confrontation with the Russians — that calmer heads will prevail.”
Harper has raised concerns about the dangers of arming rebels because the groups are so fractured, with some tied to Islamist forces. Jacobson called Harper's view a “fair concern,” but said the U.S. is channelling its support to “moderate forces” based on intelligence gathered.
U.S. 'not pressing' Canada to arm rebels
But the U.S. will not attempt to persuade Canada to arm rebels, he said.
“We are not pressing Canada. Canada is going to take its own decision as to what it’s going to do,” he said.
The conflict in Syria has killed an estimated 93,000 people. The White House says intelligence officers have estimated between 100 and 150 people died in chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
Canada not a target of NSA surveillance, ambassador says
Commenting on the raging surveillance controversy in the U.S., Jacobson said the U.S. does not spy on Canadians. Leaked National Security Agency documents have revealed that the agency is collecting massive volumes of phone and internet records.
“The United States does not target Canadians as part of any of our intelligence efforts. There are a variety of safeguards in place to ensure that that takes place and how we deal with the data,” he told Solomon.
And on the fate of the contentious Keystone XL pipeline project, Jacobson said a decision on approval is “nearing the end of the line.” He does not expect the final decision will be “imminent” in the next few weeks, but said there is no direct link between Canada’s environmental and energy policy and that final decision.