MND responds to reporters

KEN POLE  –  Apr 12, 2017

The Chief of the Defence Staff attended a federal cabinet meeting April 11 but Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was understandably tight-lipped, given long-standing cabinet secrecy rules, about what advice Gen. Jonathan Vance had been to given amid growing concern about Syria and North Korea.

“You know I can’t discuss cabinet business,” Sajjan told reporters when pressed for details, specifically about Syria. Asked then more generally about what Canada is prepared to do militarily in support of any U.S.-led initiative, the minister cited Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s observation that there was no military solution which would resolve the Syrian crisis.

We need to have a political solution,” Sajjan continued, adding that Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland had been in discussions with “our allies.” Meanwhile, his own focus is on “making sure that we contribute in a meaningful manner as we’ve done […] and our operations that we have committed to are ongoing.”

As for the government’s position that a effective resolution has to mean that President Bashar al-Assad steps down, particularly in light of his forces’ use of chemical weapons, Sajjan said the fundamental instability of Syria, even in the long term, means Assad has to go.

We have to look at what’s happening now and making sure that […] the approach that is going to be taken is one that’s going to de-escalate the situation,” he said, noting the many casualties from "decisions the Assad regime is making and the impact it’s having on civilians."

He went on to say that the alliance has to be “mindful” of what alternatives to an Assad regime might look like. “It’s not just the armed groups,” he said. “Syria is an extremely complex environment. It’s not just with something what’s happening in Syria, the civil war alone. There are obviously proxy situations taking place, and we’ll need to be mindful of that to making sure the approach […] that we do take actually de-escalates the situation and starts working towards a path for peace rather than inadvertently escalating the situation.

Sajjan said he had “a very good discussion” with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis to ensure that whatever happens “is an appropriate response” and reiterated that “we fully support the U.S.’s action on this.”

Asked about President Donald Trump’s push to have China intercede with North Korea and about the deployment of a U.S. Navy carrier group to the region, Sajjan said Canada is “very mindful of what’s happening in North Korea” and he suggested that Canada’s role within NORAD could mean some sort of unspecified involvement by the alliance.

“We work together as coalition partners,” he pointed out. “I think what we should be focussing on is what North Korea is doing and the provocative action that they’re taking. “Canada will […] always be part of that discussion to making sure that we can always […] attempt to de-escalate things.”

Asked how the U.S. naval deployment could be considered “de-escalation”, Sajjan said he has not had discussions with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis about North Korea, but that Canada agrees that it presents “an unstable danger to the rest of the world.”

-Ken Pole