PARIS – Canada took unilateral action Thursday to help Libya get back on solid financial footing, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged other countries to stop dragging their feet when it comes to helping the new regime.
Canada is lifting sanctions because dictator Moammar Gadhafi is no longer in power and the rebel-backed National Transitional Council needs help, Harper said.
“To give the NTC the best chance of ensuring a smooth transition to power, it’s essential the Libyan people experience normal life as soon as possible,” Harper said at the conclusion of meetings in Paris.
“This will require resources.”
But Canada’s hands remain tied when it comes to releasing the $2 billion in frozen Libyan assets held by Canadian institutions. The asset freeze is in place because of broader United Nations sanctions.
More than 60 delegations gathered in Paris on Thursday to draw a road map for the future of Libya that would include lifting the UN sanctions.
Harper joined several world leaders calling for a speedy end to those restrictions. He hinted the holdup is the result of some countries refusing to recognize the NTC.
China, a UN security council member, does not formally recognize the Libyan rebel movement as the country’s acting leadership, though it did send a representative to the Paris talks.
“It is now clear, should be clear to everybody, that the National Transitional Council is the legitimate government of the people of Libya and should have access to the monies that belong to them,” Harper said.
Lifting sanctions will give Canadian embassy workers the ability to resume diplomatic work in the country.
But the end of Canada’s sanctions does not necessarily provide much of a cash-infusion for the country. They were focused primarily on business-to-business relationships, but many state-owned enterprises are directly linked to the Gadhafi family. Those business dealings are still prohibited by broader UN sanctions.
Calgary-based energy firm Suncor had been working with the state-owned National Oil Corp. and was producing about 50,000 barrels of oil a day before the violence began.
Suncor had suspended operations in Libya following Gadhafi’s crackdown on protesters earlier this year. In a statement last week after rebels seized the national capital of Tripoli, the company said it wasn’t sure when it was going to go back in.
“For now, it’s early days,” the release said. “Like many others, we’re watching to see how the current events in Tripoli unfold.”
Engineering firm SNC Lavalin is also involved in several projects in Libya, including building a prison and a portion of a water-supply system.
Harper said he had received assurance that a new Libyan government would honour contracts with Canadian companies.
“And I expect Canadian companies to be aggressive in pursuing export opportunities,” he said, while stressing that a financial windfall for Canada wasn’t the motivation behind the country’s involvement in the NATO military mission.
That mission is slated to continue for the foreseeable future, though Harper categorically ruled out putting any Canadian boots on the ground.
The prime minister met separately in Paris with his British counterpart, David Cameron, said Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas.
“The two leaders reiterated their commitment to ensuring the success of the current NATO mission and exchanged views in stabilization and reconstruction efforts, and the way forward,” Soudas said in a release.
Currently, Canadian soldiers are involved in air and marine operations.
“There is no desire on the part of the National Transitional Council to have foreign troops in any significant number present in their country,” Harper said.
“There is no desire on the part of our country to play that particular role.”
Later, Harper met with interim Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoud Jabril in the official residence of Canada’s ambassador to France.
Harper said he admired Jabril’s courage and that of the Libyan people.
“We’re just feeling very good for you,” Harper said. “We know you have immense challenges and we hope to be there along the way to assist the Libyan people in having a better future.”
Jabril offered gratitude: “I would like to thank the Canadian people for their relentless support throughout all this ordeal that the Libyan people have been exposed to.”
“Canada played a major role in the NATO operations, and you are now playing a leading role in unfreezing the assets of the Libyan people, supplying all sorts of support.”
Prior to arriving in Paris, Harper stopped in Trapani, Italy, where hundreds of Canadian soldiers are stationed as part of the UN-sanctioned NATO mission.
He said Canada punched above its weight in the international military effort to oust Gadhafi.
And he said NATO’s success proves soldiers, not diplomacy, were the only way to end his bloody regime.
“For the Gadhafis of this world pay no attention to the force of argument,” he told about 100 soldiers gathered at the base. “The only thing they get is the argument of force itself. And that you have delivered in a cause that is good and right.”
But Harper told the troops the fighting isn’t over yet.
Canada is committed to participating in the UN-sanctioned mission until the end of this month, and officials aren’t ruling out an extension.
Without the military’s work, Thursday’s meetings would not have been necessary, he told the troops gathered in a hangar, a fighter jet positioned as a backdrop.
“Nothing to talk about, nothing to plan for, no hope to offer the Libyan people,” he said.
Canada joined the coalition backing the rebels in March, following the UN’s approval of a mission designed to protect civilians from further abuses at the hands of Gadhafi’s regime.
The Canadian Forces are contributing 650 personnel along with CF-18 fighter jets, aerial tankers, a warship and surveillance planes.
So far, Canada has dropped 550 bombs on the country and the jets have flown more than 1,000 sorties, according to statistics provided this week.
Harper said the former Libyan dictator has bankrolled terrorism the world over and that Canadians still condemn him for his role in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing in Scotland, which killed two Canadians and 268 others.
He said a world without Gadhafi is a better place.
“Because you held the ring while Libyans fought their own fight with their oppressor, the Libyan people are now free to choose,” Harper said.
“This is the best of Canada’s military tradition.”