09/20/2011 09:43 EDT | Updated 11/20/2011 05:12 EST

Harper At United Nations: PM To Extend Canada's Mission In Libya For Three Months


UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. - The Harper government will ask Parliament to extend Canada's military mission in Libya for three more months.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed confidence that would be enough time to neutralize the threat posed by ousted dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who remains at large.

Harper confirmed the plan Tuesday after telling the United Nations that Canada will stay the course in rebuilding a post-Gadhafi Libya. Canada's second three-month commitment expires next week.

"We will participate in the mission until armed threats from Gadhafi forces are eliminated from the country," Harper said.

"We will ask Parliament to extend the mission by three months, but I'm going to be frank with you in saying I'm pretty optimistic we'll achieve our objectives well before that timeline."

The prime minister was attending the high-level meeting on Libya attended by dozens of nations and the North African country’s new governing authority, the National Transitional Council. He also attended a UN accountability session on his signature child- and maternal-health initiative that he championed at last year's G8 in Muskoka, Ont.

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said in Ottawa he would have preferred to hear Harper announce a mission extension in Parliament. The NDP has said it won't continue to support an extension, but now that the Conservatives have a majority, that position is essentially moot.

"We think the military contribution that we’ve made has been enough and we think that the next steps obviously is rebuilding Libya and helping them ... really get on with the next phase in terms of its development both democratically and also in terms of rebuilding the infrastructure," said Dewar.

Harper told the UN gathering Canada has taken decisive diplomatic, humanitarian and military action to protect the people of Libya in the fight to oust Gadhafi and to encourage a transition to democracy.

Harper said Canada hasn't determined how it will assist the UN rebuilding but said Canada would likely focus on the development of the democratic process and disarmament.

"The presence of some of the disturbing weapons in that country is an area we want to help on."

Canada has contributed fighter jets and a warship to the six-month, NATO-led mission to buttress the NTC and protect civilians from Gadhafi. Canada has also contributed about $10.6 million in humanitarian assistance to Libya.

Harper first signalled his intention to extend Canada's commitment to NATO in May, while attending G8 meetings in France. He had reiterated that willingness while attending an earlier set of international talks on Libya held earlier this month.

On Tuesday, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the NTC president, thanked the international community for coming together to help wrest his country from the control of four decades of Gadhafi's iron-fisted rule.

"The road before us is still long … our needs are many," he added, noting that 25,000 Libyans died in the struggle to topple the dictator.

The relative success in Libya gave the international community some cause for some celebration, and temporarily sidelined the divisive plan by the Palestinian leader to seek official recognition for his country at the UN later this week.

Harper reiterated his opposition to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's plan to seek official UN recognition later this week.

"I think it's possible that it could be counterproductive," Harper said. "If the Palestinian Authority is serious about establishing a sovereign state, the method to do that is not a declaration here at the United Nations, it's to get back at the negotiating table and negotiate peace with Israel."

Harper held a wide-ranging discussion with Secretary General Ban ki-Moon on keeping up the momentum and Canadian leadership on the Third World health initiative, and the need for UN reform and enhanced accountability.

Ban thanked Harper for his leadership on maternal, child and newborn health and for his co-chairmanship of the UN Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health, said the prime minister's aides.

Harper co-chaired a meeting with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete on preventing the needless deaths of poor children and mothers in the Third World.

Harper and Kikwete were appointed by the UN to oversee an accountability commission to prevent corruption from siphoning away funds. Harper also announced Canada will contribute an extra $9 million to the World Health Organization to help them pay for accountability programs.

"We're guided in all of this by an old saying that I think inspires anyone who truly wants to make progress: if it matters measure it. Well this matters," Harper told the meeting.

Harper is to attend a business roundtable at the New York Stock Exchange with eight top American business executives before returning to Ottawa late Wednesday.

Harper has no planned meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama, who credited the Libyan people for successfully fighting for their liberation.

"It was Libyan men, women — and children — who took to the streets in peaceful protest, faced down the tanks and endured the snipers’ bullets," Obama said.

"It was Libyan fighters, often outgunned and outnumbered, who fought pitched battles, town-by-town, block-by-block. It was Libyan activists — in the underground, in chat rooms and mosques — who kept a revolution alive, even after some in the world gave up hope."

Libya shows what the international community can achieve when it stands together, said Obama.

"We cannot and should not intervene every time there's an injustice in the world. Yet it’s also true that at times the world could have and should have summoned the will to prevent the killing of innocents on a horrific scale," he said.

"And we are forever haunted by the atrocities we did not prevent, the lives we did not save. But this time was different."