Hillary Clinton stoked a political fire under the issue of Canada's planned 2011 withdrawal from Afghanistan when the Secretary of State told a national TV audience that the U.S. would like Canadian troops to extend their stay in the war-torn country.
The Conservatives were less than amused.
"Was it useful for her to do that from her domestic perspective or from her international leadership perspective? Perhaps. Was it useful for her in Canadian-U.S. relations? I'm not sure," said a senior Canadian government official, who would speak only on condition of anonymity.
The official said it was no secret that the U.S. would like to see Canada stay in Afghanistan past 2011, but Ms. Clinton did not specifically make that request to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon or Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Mr. Harper is reported to have told Ms. Clinton during a meeting Tuesday that Canada's military mission will end as scheduled next year, even as G8 foreign ministers affirmed their desire to stay the course in Afghanistan.
"[Mr. Harper]did reiterate Canada's position on Afghanistan, and that is: The military mission will end in 2011, and post-2011 is going to be a civilian-based mission focused on reconstruction and aid," said Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas.
Other countries still believe there may be room for Canada to change course and stay in the country.
On Tuesday British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told The Globe and Mail that his country wants to see Canadian troops remain past 2011.
"The best thing from our point of view is that we go in together, we stay in together, and we come out together," he said.
He hinted that there is wiggle room in Canada's 2011 deadline for withdrawal, which called for troops to leave Kandahar, not Afghanistan.
"We respect the position of the Canadian Parliament, which I think was to mandate a withdrawal from Kandahar," Mr. Miliband said. "But we very much hope that negotiations can take place to square the circle between Canadian commitments to the alliance, which are very deeply felt, and Canadian concerns about the situation in Afghanistan."
The Canadian Press, with a report from Campbell Clark
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