Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Vladivostok, Russia September 8, 2012.
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Russia over the weekend to talk trade and commerce at APEC, the annual summit of Pacific nation leaders, but ended up spending a lot of time talking about global peace and security issues, namely Syria and Iran.
On the trade front, Canada and China inked a deal the two countries had been working on since last February that aims to give Canadian companies who want to do business in China a firmer legal footing to protect their investments.
That deal was signed after Harper and Chinese President Hu Jintao had a 30-minute one-on-one meeting Sunday. During that session, Harper and Hu talked about fixing Canada's lopsided trade deficit. For every dollar China spends buying Canadian goods, Canada spends three dollars in China.
Notably, Harper and Hu did not talk about the $15 billion bid by Chinese state-owned CNOOC for Calgary oil and gas producer Nexen. Harper's cabinet will have to sign off on that deal for it to proceed and Harper told reporters here that Hu realized that topic was off-limits while it's under review.
The weekend's big headlines, though, came on the security front. Putin was pressed to join Canada and the West in efforts to isolate Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad but Putin remained a defiant isolationist.
And then there was the big bombshell dropped by Canada, on the eve of the APEC summit, that it would cut ties to Iran and declare that country a state sponsor of terrorism. That made headlines around the world.
Iranian leaders called the decision "unwise" and one Iranian parliamentarian went so far as to threaten an "immediate and decisive" response. Though no Iranian leader would specify that response, it renewed fears that Iran would carry out the sentence on three Canadians on death row in that country.
The question for the Harper government now: How to get those Canadians home?
"We will continue both from Ottawa through our partners and allies to continue to advocate on behalf of Canadians who have those kinds of difficult consular situations, legal situations in Iran," Harper said.
"We terminated our diplomatic presence there precisely because we are concerned by the behaviour and capacity for increasingly bad behaviour of the government of Iran. So nothing would surprise me but that is all the more reason why it is essential that our Canadian personnel no longer be present."
Harper went on to say that even before Friday, anyone's ability to influence Iran "was minimal."
He also responded to the vague threat of the Iranian parliamentarian.
"Do I anticipate specific actions? No, not necessarily," Harper said. "But we should all know by now that this is a regime that does not stop at anything."
For all of Harper's trouble, Iran's foreign ministry issued a statement saying that it was Canada, not Iran, that was "a source of threat to international security and stability."
Needless to say, the Canadian contingent here found the assessment laughable.
"We know what Iran's record is," Harper said. "Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. It's pursuing a nuclear program contrary to its international obligations. It engages in anti-Semitism and genocidal threats against the state of Israel. It is arming the Assad regime."
Though the NDP say Harper's decision to cut off relations with Iran is "bizarre," Liberal MP Irwin Cotler defended the decision in a long op-ed piece in the Jerusalem Post, praising the "exemplary case made by the Canadian government for closing its embassy in Iran."