Canada has received a request from the United States to increase its contribution to the military mission in Iraq and Stephen Harper said cabinet will soon decide on the government's next steps.
The Prime Minister made the comments in New York during an event prior to speaking at the United Nations on security issues. Mr. Harper also said Canadian forces have been working in Iraq for several weeks and are currently the second-largest force, after the United States, working in support of Iraqi troops.
"We haven't ruled out anything. We need to have some additional debate within our government before we reach a final decision," said Mr. Harper during a one-on-one interview with the Wall Street Journal on stage in front of an audience.
"The United States just recently in the last couple of days has asked for some additional contribution and we're weighing our response to that," said Mr. Harper, who declined to offer specifics. "Since they didn't release the letter publicly, I'm not going to [reveal the request]. I'm just going to say the government of Canada will make a decision on that very shortly."
The Prime Minister said the goal of the military operation is to ensure that terrorist organizations are not able to operate in the open.
"I do not believe that we can watch a terrorist caliphate, essentially what has become a quasi-state, establish a regime of mayhem over an entire region," he said. "It is obviously essential – and this is, I think, the ultimate purpose of everything that's being done in Iraq and Syria – it's obviously essential that while terrorists and terrorist organizations may continue to exist, that they not have visible and open bases of operations from which to conduct either regional or eventually global impacts. So I think the action is certainly warranted and we're certainly supportive of it."
Mr. Harper addressed a special United Nations Security Council meeting on foreign fighters Wednesday afternoon.
He said Canada supported a UN resolution aimed at stemming the flow of foreign fighters and noted that the government is examining how to strengthen its anti-terrorism laws. He also said Canada's security agencies work well with Muslim communities.
The Security Council adopted a binding resolution requiring countries to enact laws that would bar suspected militants from travelling abroad to join extremist organizations. The meeting was chaired by U.S. President Barack Obama, who backed the plan, and the resolution was supported by more than 100 countries.
The meeting came amid escalating U.S.-led attacks against Islamic State militants, who are fighting to establish a Sunni Islamic state and already control large parts of Iraq and Syria. U.S. officials estimate some 15,000 foreign fighters from around the world have travelled to the region, fuelling concern that some may return to their home countries to launch domestic attacks. More than 130 Canadian citizens have left the country to join or fund extremist activities, Canadian officials say, including dozens who may have joined the Islamic State group.
The Security Council is responsible for maintaining international peace and security, but its capacity to address major crises has frequently been limited by disagreements among the five veto-wielding permanent members. The resolution could be difficult to enforce, particularly in countries like Canada and the U.S., which don't conduct exit checks and have constitutional protections, including freedom to enter and leave, for citizens not convicted of a crime.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister said Canada's anti-terror laws are under review, amid growing concern about threats against Canadians. And Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has indicated that the government is already revoking passports from suspected militants who have travelled abroad and is invalidating travel documents in some cases.
Mr. Harper's participation in the Security Council meeting came four years after Canada's failed attempt to win one of the Security Council's rotating temporary seats in 2010. The rejection was an embarrassment for the government and Mr. Harper has skipped annual opportunities to speak at the United Nations General Assembly since that year.
This year, in addition to his Security Council address, he will deliver remarks to the General Assembly on Thursday evening. Mr. Harper also participated in a question-and-answer session with the editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal and will attend a UN-led meeting on maternal and child health this week.
In a speech to the UN General Assembly Wednesday morning, U.S. President Barack Obama reiterated the Security Council's plans to adopt a resolution that he said would underscore the responsibility of states to counter violent extremism.
"But resolutions must be followed by tangible commitments, so we're accountable when we fall short," he added. "Next year, we should all be prepared to announce the concrete steps that we have taken to counter extremist ideologies – by getting intolerance out of schools, stopping radicalization before it spreads, and promoting institutions and programs that build new bridges of understanding."