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Politics Harper to discuss trade, Ukraine, Greece with Angela Merkel in Ottawa

Prime Minister Stephen Harper take part in a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany on Thursday, March 27, 2014. Harper says Merkel will visit Ottawa on Monday.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Several of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's main global interests will be on the table when he meets with friend and close political ally Angela Merkel in Ottawa on Monday.

Ms. Merkel's brief visit comes just after the German Chancellor held high-stakes peace talks in Moscow where she sought to reach a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin to stem the violence in eastern Ukraine. A Kremlin spokesman called the talks "constructive" on Friday evening but there was no evidence of an immediate breakthrough.

Mr. Harper has a warm personal relationship with Ms. Merkel, who shares similar views on a range of economic and security issues. While the conflict in Ukraine is expected to top the agenda for Monday's meeting, the leaders may also discuss the free-trade deal between Canada and Europe and Ms. Merkel's views on Greece's economy.

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Ms. Merkel is making a point of visiting G7 leaders ahead of the group's next summit, which will be held in Germany in June. Her visit to Ottawa will be brief; she arrives on the same day as a visit to Washington and is expected to depart later on Monday night.

The German leader spoke by telephone on Sunday with Mr. Putin, French President François Hollande and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and plans are under way for a followup meeting to be held in the Belarusian capital of Minsk later this week.

Ms. Merkel is keen to find a lasting solution to the crisis in Ukraine amid fears that resurgent fighting could threaten Europe's security. There are calls in the United States for Washington to send weapons to Ukraine's military to help the country defend itself from a continued incursion by Russian-backed rebels in the east.

Ms. Merkel and other European leaders are concerned that more arms will not solve the crisis and she has continued to press for a diplomatic solution.

However, observers say the German leader's rhetoric on Russian intervention in Ukraine has toughened as the conflict drags on.

"Canada has been of the school that it's important to be tough and stand up to Putin. I think it's fair to say that Merkel has come around to that position," said Fen Hampson, director of the global security and politics program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont.

Ottawa's approach to the conflict is influenced by Canada's large Ukrainian population and both Mr. Harper and former foreign affairs minister John Baird have been vocal in their support for Ukraine's new government and their condemnation of Russian intervention.

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The planned tête-à-tête with Ms. Merkel comes after Mr. Harper opted to delay talks with the presidents of the United States and Mexico – leaders with whom the Prime Minister currently has much less in common. Continued frustration over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline could have made for an icy trilateral meeting, observers say, something Mr. Harper may have preferred to avoid.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told The Associated Press last week that the last ceasefire agreement in Ukraine was "undermined and violated" by separatists in the eastern part of the country. He called for any new agreement to be monitored by observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Prof. Hampson said Ms. Merkel may want to gauge Mr. Harper's interest in sending ceasefire monitors into Ukraine. "If there is a ceasefire, one of the questions is how you're going to monitor it… So there might well be an ask for a Canadian contribution on the table, particularly if it's done under OSCE auspices."

The crisis in Ukraine began last fall after its former president reversed plans to strengthen ties with the European Union and took a bailout from Moscow. After months of demonstrations and clashes, Viktor Yanukovych fled the country and Russia took hold of Crimea.

With a report from The Associated Press

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