OTTAWA - Canada is putting global security, including the volatile Afghan-Pakistan border situation, at the top of the agenda for next month's Group of Eight foreign ministers' meeting, The Canadian Press has learned.
Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, who is chairing the late March meeting, said he believes Canada has credibility on the Afghan issue even though it is withdrawing from a combat role next year.
In an interview, the minister disclosed the agenda for the meeting being held in Gatineau, Que., for the first time.
He said there will be three major topics under discussion - the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border used by Taliban fighters to evade NATO forces, Iran's nuclear ambitions and strategies for dealing with "vulnerable states."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledged to end Canada's combat role in Afghanistan next year, leading many analysts to say the country's international stature will suffer.
But Cannon disputes the assertion, saying Canada has earned its place at the table on matters dealing with Afghanistan.
"I don't think that Canada's foreign policy is only dependent on the fact that we have boots on the ground. It certainly helped because it did determine and establish our credibility as being people who have not only stepped up to the plate but delivered above and beyond expectations," Cannon said.
"I think we have established a great deal of credibility among our partners in the ISAF group."
Canada will effectively cease to be a member of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan when its 2,800 military personnel end their combat mission next year and begin returning to Canada.
Cannon said the plight of vulnerable countries will also be high on the agenda.
"I don't like using the world 'fragile,' " said Cannon, who singled out countries across Africa, as well as Yemen and Haiti as trouble spots that would feature in the March talks.
He said Canada would lead discussions at the G8 on how best to help Yemen fight the root causes of terrorism on its soil. He suggested a specific set of measures might be saved as a deliverable for the G8 leaders when they hold their summit in June.
During a visit to Ottawa last month, Yemen's foreign minister asked for Canadian development assistance, including coast guard expertise, to fight terrorism in his country. The Yemen branch of al-Qaida took responsibility for the botched attempt to blow up a commercial airliner bound for Detroit on Christmas Day.
Canada holds the G8 presidency, which culminates with the leaders' summit in late June in Huntsville, Ont. The foreign ministers' meeting, across the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill, is the next major meeting on the G8 calendar following this month's gathering of finance ministers in Iqaluit.
Along with hosting the Winter Olympics, Harper has trumpeted the G8 and its companion G20 meeting immediately following in Toronto as evidence that 2010 is Canada's "international year."
But the pullout from Afghanistan poses a threat to the elevated stature that Canada has enjoyed with its closest ally, the United States. President Barack Obama and his top cabinet members have regularly lauded the sacrifice of Canadian soldiers, and the exceptional fighting capability of Forces personnel in southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban insurgency has inflicted the most violence.
Cannon suggested Canada's partnership with the U.S. in helping earthquake-ravaged Haiti will help keep Ottawa's profile high with Washington.
Canada took a leading role on helping Haiti by organizing on short notice a high-profile international meeting in Montreal that was attended by more than a dozen foreign ministers, major international aid agencies and representatives of world financial institutions.
"Canada is helpful," Cannon said. "We chart our foreign policy and in many regards we're like-minded with the Americans.
"The prime minister and the president are very practical individuals. They look at how do we fix situations."