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Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird speaks to reporters in Montreal on Aug. 28, 2013. (GRAHAM HUGHES/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird speaks to reporters in Montreal on Aug. 28, 2013. (GRAHAM HUGHES/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Baird headed for G20 summit amid debate on Syria crisis Add to ...

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird will join his international counterparts to discuss the deepening crisis in Syria, on the sidelines of the G20 summit this week in Russia.

With the U.S. Congress scheduled to vote on a military strike against Syria, the ongoing bloodshed was threatening to overtake discussions at what is supposed to be an economic forum.

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Having foreign ministers meet simultaneously as world leaders do in St. Petersburg could help to keep the core agenda on track and defuse a showdown between Russia and other countries.

“The minister will be going to continue to engage with his counterparts on the situation in Syria,” said Baird’s spokesman Rick Roth.

The United States, France, Australia, Britain and Canada say they believe the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is to blame for a chemical weapons attack against innocent Syrian civilians two weeks ago.

But Russia has been steadfastly opposed to any military action without the approval of the United Nations Security Council, and has expressed doubts about the source of the attack. It is one of the five veto-wielding, permanent members of the council.

Baird and his fellow foreign ministers don’t normally attend the G20 but the ad-hoc group took shape on the eve of the summit.

Other countries that are expected to send their foreign ministers include the United States, Brazil, China, Russia and Turkey.

The Official Opposition agreed the government should be sending Baird to St. Petersburg to join what they hoped would be a “full court press” on the U.S. and Russia – Syria’s main backer – to renew efforts towards a diplomatic solution to end more than two years of bloodshed that has left at least 100,000 dead.

But NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar also called on the Harper government to temper its support of the looming U.S.-led military strike on Syria, even as the Obama administration received crucial backing from leading lawmakers in Congress ahead of the vote.

“We’d like to see as much pressure and focus on the diplomatic side as there are people musing about the military action.”

Dewar said the government should wait until the United Nations has examined the evidence from the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria.

“We think history should teach us that we should be waiting for the UN report to come through, and so we’re not in support of what they’re contemplating right now in the U.S.,” said Dewar, referring to the faulty intelligence that led to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq a decade ago.

U.S. President Barack Obama was planning to use the G20 gathering to build support for a military strike among some of the group’s more reluctant leaders.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Tuesday that an attack would be illegal without Security Council approval and could unleash more suffering throughout the region.

“I take note of the argument for action to prevent a future use of chemical weapons. At the same time, we must consider the impact of any punitive measure on efforts to prevent further bloodshed and facilitate the political resolution of the conflict,” Ban told reporters.

Aid agencies continue to deal with the swelling humanitarian crisis in the region that has now reached a milestone of two million refugees.

Robert Fox, executive director of Oxfam Canada, welcomed the renewed diplomatic efforts of the foreign ministers headed to St. Petersburg this week.

“Talk isn’t enough, but it is welcome to break the logjam,” he said. “We do need to get the Americans and the Russians and the Europeans and the Canadians and other actors to be actively creating conditions for substantive talks in Syria.”

With a report from Associated Press

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