Crunch time for Canada – Metro US

Crunch time for Canada

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will today have a final opportunity to underline Canada’s make-or-break policy in Afghanistan as NATO leaders gather in the Romanian capital of Bucharest in a summit to revive the flagging mission.
Even as his cabinet colleagues play down expectations for a breakthrough at Bucharest, Harper is to take centre stage alongside Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the secretary generals of both NATO and the United Nations in a panel discussion titled “Afghanistan: Success Not in Sight, Failure Not an Option.”
Harper’s appearance alongside the three principal players in the Afghan effort comes amid deepening concerns the Bucharest summit will fall significantly short of its goal of levelling the burden borne by the 39 nations involved in Afghanistan.
Mixed messages continued to cast doubts over what is to be announced tomorrow, when Harper and his fellow leaders hope to emerge from a closed-door session with a positive response to Ottawa’s demands for a minimum 1,000 additional soldiers — plus transport helicopters and aerial surveillance drones — to extend to 2011 the mission in restive Kandahar Province.
France, the target of an intense diplomatic courtship by Ottawa in recent months, signalled again yesterday it would answer at least some of Canada’s needs.
“There have been specific requests, notably from the Netherlands and Canada. It is impossible to shy away from our responsibilities. This commitment honours France,” Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told the National Assembly in Paris.
Kouchner’s comments come in the wake of media leaks indicating President Nicolas Sarkozy comes to Bucharest poised to announce the deployment of some 1,000 French soldiers to eastern Afghanistan, rather than the south, where Canada’s needs are all too clear.
Before landing in Bucharest, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said that, while the government has “done everything humanly possible” to win the support of NATO allies in Kandahar, the actual results of its efforts may not be known at Bucharest.
“Keep in mind we do have until February 2009 to fulfill those commitments,” he said.
“The sooner the better, the more the better. That’s what we’ve been saying all along.”

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