Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Ottawa.
Credits: REUTERS/Chris Wattie
NEW YORK - Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu have a warm, personal relationship.
So far as world leaders go, you might even call them old pals.
And so, as the two men sat down for a one-on-one meeting at a Park Avenue hotel here in Manhattan Friday morning, it was one friend telling another something he may not have wanted to hear.
Canada, Harper told Netanyahu, will not be drawing any "red lines" when it comes to Iran's nuclear weapons program, despite Netanyahu's very public entreaties at the United Nations this week that its allies ought to do so and a very personal entreaty to Harper that Canada ought to back him on that.
In New York earlier this week, Harper had said Iran is a "clear and present danger." He did that, as he told his friend Bibi on Friday, because: "Our country has not been shy about warning the world about the danger that the Iranian regime ultimately presents to all of us."
But military action? "We want to see a peaceful resolution of all this," Harper said.
Canada recently severed diplomatic ties with Iran, among the strongest possible signals one country can send about its displeasure with another country's behaviour.
Netanyahu thanked his friend "Stephen" for that action, calling it "an act of moral clarity" and saying that "such clear decisive steps is a great example to be followed by other nations."
But Netanyahu is having trouble convincing Canada and other allies of Israel - notably the U.S. - that a more serious threat needs to be made to Iran. Namely, that if it continues its nuclear weapons development program, Iran will see bombs and missiles raining down on the industrial plants making Iran's enriched uranium.
At the UN on Thursday, Netanyahu pulled out a crude drawing of a bomb to help make his point that Iran already is stockpiling enriched iranium - the gunpowder, to use Netanyahu's metaphor, of a nuclear weapon - and could be less than two years away from amassing enough of the stuff for its first nuclear weapon.
"The red line must be drawn on Iran's nuclear enrichment program because these enrichment facilities are the only nuclear installations that we can definitely see and credibly target," Netanyahu told the UN on Thursday. "I believe faced with a clear, red line, Iran will back down."
On Friday, he tried to sell that line to Harper saying: "I tried to say something yesterday (to the UN) and that is to translate the agreement and principle of stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons in practice means setting red lines on their enrichment process. It's their only discernible and vulnerable part of their nuclear program."
But, according to a senior government official in the room with the two men, Harper wasn't buying it.
"Canada will not be publicly setting red lines. That is for others to do. We will continue to work with our allies to find a peaceful resolution on Iran," the official said.
And so, Netanyahu left New York City, still without any major ally ready to help him draw those lines. And Harper returned to Ottawa, still pals with Bibi, but standing with other friends of Israel who still believe words, and not missiles,can yet end the Iranian threat.