Harper calls Hamas 'genocidal'

Peace won't be achieved through dialogue with groups that aim to kill, PM declares

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

December 21, 2006

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canada will not talk with the "genocidal" Islamic groups Hamas and Hezbollah even though he acknowledged that dialogue is the way to peace in the Middle East.

"We will not solve the Palestinian-Israeli problem, as difficult as that is, through organizations that advocate violence and advocate wiping Israel off the face of the Earth," Mr. Harper said yesterday in a wide-ranging year-end interview with CTV to be aired Saturday.

"It's unfortunate because with Hamas, and with Hezbollah in Lebanon, it has made it very difficult to have dialogue -- and dialogue is ultimately necessary to have peace in the long term -- but we are not going to sit down with people whose objectives are ultimately genocidal."

Many Canadians expressed discomfort with the strong pro-Israeli stand Mr. Harper took soon after his election and again this summer during Israel's bombardment of Lebanon. Previous Liberal governments have tried to walk a more neutral line, saying that permits Canada to be an honest broker in finding a resolution to the conflict.

But the Prime Minister said he doesn't believe Canada has ever played that role.

"My own assessment of Canada's role in the Middle East in the past decade or so is we have been completely absent," he said. "I don't see any evidence we were playing any role."

Mr. Harper said he has made it clear to allies in the region that Canada is prepared to talk to the various sides of the issue. He said his government wants to find ways of dealing with the Palestinian Authority through President Mahmoud Abbas, who belongs to the secular Fatah party.

"But I think all of the civilized world is agreed -- and it's not just Canada -- we can't deal with organizations whose principle and only objective is terrorism and the eradication of the other side."

Under the Conservatives, Canada was the first country, ahead of even the United States, to withdraw financial aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government. As other countries questioned and in some cases condemned Israel's bombing of Lebanon this summer, Mr. Harper initially described the bombardment as a "measured response."

The CTV interview was one of many he has conducted this week with national news outlets. On Monday, he told The Globe and Mail he has warned the party to be ready for an election.

He told several media, including CTV, that he wouldn't succumb to political pressure to pull Canada's troops from Afghanistan. He said he has talked to the families of soldiers who have been killed in that conflict and they have urged him not to abandon the mission for which their loved ones died.

"I couldn't care less if the opposition brings me down and defeats me in an election over this," Mr. Harper said.

"I have to do what I think is right for the long-term security interest of this country and right for the men and women who have put themselves on the line."

He also responded to the criticism that, despite having once talked about the importance of giving MPs and cabinet ministers more power, he is one of the most controlling prime ministers to hold the job in some time.

"I'm not sure I would agree with that," he said. "I think ministers exercise a fair degree of discretion in their own jurisdictions. What we do try and do is co-ordinate so we know what everyone else is doing."

As for his family, he said, they are enjoying this period of their lives -- particularly his wife Laureen.

Asked about whether he has ever taken a ride with Mrs. Harper as she is driving her motorcycle, he said no. "You've got to worry about image. I don't want to be on the back with my wife driving."

Asked which foreign leader has impressed him the most, Mr. Harper said he has tremendous admiration for British Prime Minister Tony Blair because he has got his country to focus on national interests rather than narrow partisan interests.

Mr. Harper has been widely criticized by his political opponents as being too close to U.S. President George Bush.

"I know that President Bush is not popular in Canada and I know what they're doing," he said of his detractors. "At the same time I think it is the responsibility of the Prime Minister of Canada to have a good relationship with the President of the United States regardless of who that is. I do think that relationship has had some dividends in getting us a long-term softwood lumber agreement."

The news network played a clipfor Mr. Harper of a summer press conference in Washington in which Mr. Bush repeatedly referred to him as Steve.

". . . It made my mother quite angry," Mr. Harper said, "because she's made it her whole life to get people to call me Stephen instead of Steve. So I don't know if she phoned the White House or not."

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