The Liberal government isn’t ruling out a military contribution in Syria, a government spokesman told Follow-Up, The Huffington Post Canada’s political podcast, this week.
And it won’t say whether it will back further unilateral action in the region by the United States to help remove Bashar al-Assad.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland repeated last week that the Syrian president “has to go.”
Chrystia Freeland leaves after a family picture on the second day of a meeting of foreign affairs ministers from the G7 countries on April 11, 2017 in Lucca, Tuscany. (Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)
“Assad cannot remain in power in Syria,” she told reporters after a G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Italy. “We do not see a future for Syria with Assad ruling the country.”
Freeland’s comments came on the heels of U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to drop 59 Tomahawk missiles on an airfield allegedly linked to last week’s deadly chemical attack in Syria.
Matt DeCourcey, Freeland’s parliamentary secretary, told HuffPost that Canada’s support for further military action in Syria will depend on the circumstances.
“I think those are discussions that we would prefer to have with our allies, through the G7, through the U.N., through our allies in other coalition efforts,” he said on the Follow-Up podcast.
“I wouldn’t want to comment on what hypothetical action the U.S. might take wherever, but I would want to assure Canadians that our close relationships with the U.S. allies is to be knowledgeable and in the loop on their ongoing plans and actions as it relates to some of the conflict zones around the world.”
“I think those are discussions that we would prefer to have with our allies, through the G7, through the U.N., through our allies in other coalition efforts.”
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan told reporters early this week that using chemical weapons against human beings is “something that has to be stopped.” He said the decision to drop missiles had been “supported by good intelligence” and was intended to send “a message to Assad that actions like this is not going to come without consequence.”
But what those consequences will be remains unclear.
While Canada is urging Russia to sever ties with the Assad regime, DeCourcey said the country’s participation in pushing the leader out is yet to be determined. Canada is a taking an active part in diplomatic talks, the parliamentary secretary said, but the Liberal government is not ruling out the possibility of military engagement.
“Oh I really can’t say at this point, and I think we all need to be reasonable in our expectations of the length of time we are talking about to come to a peaceful solution in Syria. This isn’t going to happen tomorrow, it’s not going to happen after the long weekend,” DeCourcey said.
“We continue to be deliberate in building good relationships with our allies in strengthening the bond with the U.S. administration and continuing to invest in humanitarian aid, in the diplomatic efforts that we are already tremendously involved in, as well as coalition efforts that we are already involved with militarily to defeat Daesh, which is another horrid wrinkle in this whole situation.
“We will continue to be involved. And we will continue to espouse our values and we will continue to support that stabilized region of the world.”
A senior government source told HuffPost Canada that the cabinet is not considering any military contribution but is keeping options open, in part, because it doesn’t know what requests may come from the Trump administration.
DeCourcey spoke on Follow-Up as part of a larger discussion on the Liberals’ foreign policy agenda and the impact of the Trump presidency. Listen to the latest episode here.
He suggested the close relationship the Trudeau government has sought to build with the Trump White House has “already paid dividends.”
“We have seen the president express, I think, views that are more closely aligned to ours with around multilateralism, around the importance of NATO, around the importance, once again, of finding that lasting peace for the Syrian people,” DeCourcey said, claiming credit for influencing Trump’s about face on Syria and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“We understand that the United States … is a significant actor in the world and our relationship with them is vital,” he said.
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