01/21/2015 04:17 EST | Updated 03/23/2015 05:59 EDT

John Baird Declines Invite For 'Make-Or-Break' Syria Meeting At Davos

OTTAWA - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird plans to take a pass on this week's high-level meeting, chaired by his Norwegian counterpart, on the future of Syria at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

However, Baird will attend separate sessions Thursday on the crisis in Ukraine and a meeting focused on the instability being caused by militants in Iraq and Syria.

The details are contained in a copy of Baird's updated itinerary obtained by The Canadian Press.

Baird was among two dozen international figures invited to what was billed as a make-or-break discussion Friday on Syria, along with representatives from Iraq, Jordan, France, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and the League of Arab States.

Also on the guest list is Iran's foreign minister. Canada has severed relations with Iran, a country that's often a target for criticism from Baird.

Syria's nearly four years of civil strife has displaced nearly half its population, or 9.5 million people, and has left an estimated 220,000 dead.

"We are thus at a possible 'make-or-break' moment for the future viability of Syria as a state, with serious consequences for Syrians, the region and the world," says a separate confidential memo about Friday's Syria meeting, obtained by The Canadian Press.

Baird's itinerary says he will have roundtable discussions with some unnamed chief executives while the Norway-led talks on Syria are taking place.

Baird's spokesman Adam Hodge said there is "little to be gained" by reading into the details of the minister's itinerary.

"As is the case every year, the agenda at the World Economic Forum is fluid and changes hour to hour, depending on the shifting schedules of many people," Hodge said in an email.

"What meetings were confirmed yesterday may not happen today."

He did not offer specific details of Baird's plans.

Liberal foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau said Baird should go to the Syria meeting on Friday because Syria represents the most pressing international crisis.

"Canada, through Minister Baird, should have agreed to be at the table. There is no excuse for not doing so."

The minister's updated itinerary indicated he would be at two meetings on Thursday to discuss two serious global security issues: the ongoing unrest in Ukraine and threats posed by Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq.

On the latter crisis, Baird is to take part in a one-hour session on the "endgame" in Iraq and Syria that asks, "How are security emergencies in both countries reshaping the geo-economics and geopolitics of the region?"

Baird is also slated to have a bilateral discussion with his Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Klimkin, on Friday.

A tete-a-tete set for Saturday with the U.S. secretary of state is listed as 'To be confirmed.'

Baird returns to Canada on Sunday after nearly two weeks out of the country, on a trip that has also taken him to Egypt and Israel.

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