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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta as they walk through the Hall of Honour in the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, Monday Sept. 23, 2013. Mr. Harper will not address the UN while he is in New York this week.Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is joining the throng of world leaders gathered in New York for the annual kickoff to this year's session of the United Nations, but unlike many of them, his agenda does not include a formal speech to the General Assembly.

Instead, he is scheduled to co-host an event on improving maternal health, hold meetings with various leaders and participate in a discussion sponsored by the Canadian American Business Council.

It's the same approach Mr. Harper used last year, when he came to New York but passed on the chance to make a high-profile speech to the assembled diplomats and dignitaries. Mr. Harper's government has had a prickly relationship with the UN, epitomized by Canada's surprise defeat three years ago in its bid to win a temporary seat on the Security Council.

For the General Assembly proceedings, Canada is expected to be represented by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who is scheduled to address the chamber on Monday.

On Wednesday morning, Mr. Harper is attending an event at the UN focused on reaching milestones in improving maternal and child health, long a priority for his government. Also on hand for the panel discussion: the leaders of Norway and Tanzania and the philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates. Mr. Harper will also meet separately with Mr. and Mrs. Gates.

The rest of Mr. Harper's visit will include private meetings with world leaders, business people and investors, as well as a question-and-answer session on Thursday.

On Tuesday, Mr. Harper expressed his views on the apparent window for new talks between Western nations and Iran, a country with which Canada no longer has diplomatic ties.

"I certainly would not fault President Obama and our allies from trying," Mr. Harper said in Ottawa, according to a report from Agence France-Presse. "But my sincere advice would be when it comes to the government of Iran, that we should carefully monitor deeds far more than words."