04/03/2014 03:57 EDT | Updated 06/03/2014 05:59 EDT

Baird expresses 'serious concern' with stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks

OTTAWA - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Wednesday he is seriously concerned about the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Baird's remarks follow some blunt talk from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who called on leaders from both sides to "lead" and prevent the current round of negotiations from falling apart.

The impasse came after the Palestinians said they would seek greater United Nations recognition, which Israel opposes, after Israel refused to release a group of Palestinian prisoners.

"In light of recent reports that the Palestinian Authority has taken unilateral steps in seeking further international recognition, I feel compelled to express my serious concern and opposition to this development," Baird said in a statement.

"Canada urges both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government to recommit themselves to the negotiations, and refrain from taking unilateral actions that risk derailing the talks."

Canada, along with the United States, has strongly opposed all attempts by the Palestinian Authority to gain greater recognition at the UN.

In November 2012, Baird made a special trip to the UN General Assembly and delivered a speech that passionately opposed the Palestinian bid. That didn't prevent the Palestinian Authority from overwhelmingly winning greater recognition.

Canada, the United States, Israel, and six smaller nations were the only countries to vote against the Palestinians among the 190-plus countries in the UN.

Baird has also been repeatedly supportive of Kerry's renewed peace effort, which has been progressing slowly for the last eight months.

"American leadership, and the concerted efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry to mediate an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, presents the best opportunity toward achieving a just and lasting peace," Baird said.

"There is no doubt that the two parties to these negotiations will have to make serious and difficult compromises to move the process forward at this critical juncture. It would be a tragedy to miss this historic opportunity."

Kerry also said it would be a "tragedy" if the talks failed to resume, but he said there are limits to what the Obama administration can do to bring the two sides together.

"You can facilitate, you can push, you can nudge, but the parties themselves have to make fundamental decisions and compromises," he said. "The leaders have to lead and they have to be able to see a moment when it's there."

He recalled the old adage that you can lead a horse to water but can't make it drink.

"Now is the time to drink," Kerry said. "The leaders need to know that."

Kerry has travelled extensively to the region in recent weeks, seeing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel on Monday and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week in Jordan.

Kerry cancelled another trip to the region on Wednesday after the Palestinians said they would seek greater United Nations recognition over Israeli objections. Abbas announced the move after Israel refused to release a group of Palestinian prisoners it had earlier agreed to free.

Both actions run counter to the agreement the two sides reached last year to negotiate a settlement by the end of April.

— With files from The Associated Press

Follow @mblanchfield on Twitter