Prime Minister Paul Martin won't commit to sending troops to help rebuild Iraq despite growing pressure on world leaders to do more for the war-torn country.
"Whatever we do I want to see us do it in an area that makes a difference," Mr. Martin said Thursday after meeting with French president Jacques Chirac as part of a trip to Europe.
Citing Canadian peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan and Haiti and police training in Jordan, Mr. Martin said, "We are not on the sidelines."
Mr. Martin's predecessor, Jean Chrétien, refused to join the U.S.-led attack on Iraq last year because the invasion was not backed by the United Nations. Canada's involvement in Iraq has included $300-million for emergency aid and rebuilding efforts of which about $140-million has flowed.
During his meeting with Mr. Chirac, Mr. Martin described French-Canadian relations as "exemplary," according to presidential spokesman Jerome Bonnafont.
"We are hand in hand on most international questions and our bilateral relations are excellent," Mr. Bonnafont quoted him as saying.
Mr. Martin and Mr. Chirac reviewed international issues, including Afghanistan, where both Canada and France have troops, Congo and Iraq. However, the broad discussions also included issues like commercial fishing.
Mr. Martin voiced his "concern" over exploitation of fish resources, a position supported by France, Mr. Bonnafont said.
Mr. Chirac "suggested that Canada and France, with other interested countries, work out a common initiative," the spokesman said. However, he would not specify what such an initiative might entail.
Asked about Quebec Premier Jean Charest's planned November trip to Mexico, Mr. Martin played down the significance. French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin is to accompany Charest there.
"The prime minister of Canada speaks for Canada," Mr. Martin replied. "There is but one voice on the international scene and that is the prime minister of Canada."
The Mexican trip, he said, is a "commercial mission."
Mr. Martin told France's LeMonde daily newspaper that it's better for Canada to play a key role in Afghanistan rather than a marginal one in Iraq. Canada's commitment to have troops in Afghanistan will continue, the prime minister stressed.
"I'm not downplaying the role we can play in Iraq at all," Mr. Martin said. "I'm not saying we will not play a role in Iraq," but whatever we do must make a "significant difference," Mr. Martin explained. "There's a limit to our resources."
Canada has followed through on what it has already committed in terms of humanitarian aid to Iraq.
The prime minister said it's simply a matter of concentrating Canada's limited resources in the best way possible, such as in Haiti, Afghanistan and Darfur.
The United Nations has called the situation in the western Darfur region of Sudan the world's worst humanitarian crisis. About 1.2 million people have fled their villages because of attacks blamed on government-backed militias, known as the Janjaweed. Many others have been killed or have died in refugee camps.
Haiti has been plagued by violence since an uprising ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide at the end of February. Floods resulting from tropical storm Jeanne have caused hundreds of deaths and widespread devastation in the impoverished country.
Mr. Martin's comments on Iraq came as two international meetings were being held on how best to restore peace and order to the country.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stressed the urgency of the situation before NATO defence ministers met this week in Romania.
"We need more equipment. We need it from NATO nations. We need it gifted," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
In Tokyo, 57 countries and international organizations wrapped up a two-day donors meeting Thursday with pledges to speed up projects to rebuild Iraq - possibly by using more Iraqis to implement them - and expressed their strong support for the country's plans to hold nationwide elections in January.
Ahead of the elections, there is even more pressure for additional security. Violence continues amid a campaign of kidnappings and beheadings of foreigners by insurgents to drive out coalition forces and hamper reconstruction.
After his meeting and lunch with Mr. Chirac, Mr. Martin was heading to Hungary for a summit on governance before returning home Saturday.
The prime minister's first major foreign tour began Monday with a two-day visit to Russia. He met Wednesday with Raffarin in Paris.