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The Afghan mission

No means no, PM tells Clinton Add to ...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this morning that Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan ends in 2011.

Mr. Harper and Mrs. Clinton met for 20 minutes at a hotel in Aylmer, Que., across the river from Ottawa where G8 foreign ministers are meeting today.

Mrs. Clinton did not ask that Canada keep troops in Afghanistan past the 2011 deadline, a Harper official told The Globe. Rather, the issue came up as the two were speaking about issues in Iran and Afghanistan.

"In the discussion on Iran and Afghanistan the Prime Minister reiterated [Canada's position]" a senior Harper official said.

Mrs. Clinton made headlines across the country yesterday when she said in an interview with CTV that the United States wanted Canada's military to stay beyond its deadline.

The two leaders also talked about Mr. Harper's upcoming visit to Washington for President Barack Obama's nuclear proliferation summit. And what's a meeting between an American and Canadian politician without a little sports talk?

Mrs. Clinton congratulated the Prime Minister on the success of the Winter Games. She said she followed it and liked it all with the exception of the two hockey games. Both the Canadian men's and women's hockey teams beat the Americans for Olympic gold.

The Prime Minister, meanwhile, addressed the opening of the G8 foreign minister's meeting after his tête-à-tête with Mrs. Clinton.

Issues around the growing threats posed by Iran and North Korea were mentioned. As well, he spoke about Afghanistan, Haiti and his signature initiative for the G8 - maternal and child health in developing countries.

First, however, Mr. Harper expressed his condolences to the Russian Foreign Minister for the terrorist attacks in the Moscow subway yesterday.

Speaking of the serious global threat posed by North Korea and Iran, Mr. Harper urged the North Koreans to return to the Six-Party talks "without preconditions."

"And we urge a heightened focus, and stronger co-ordinated action, including sanctions if necessary, on the Iranian regime," he said. Both countries, the Prime Minister added, "use violence and intimidation to deprive their citizens of fundamental rights."

On Afghanistan, Mr. Harper said that the Karzai government "must continue to assume greater responsibility for its own security, while providing basic services and good governance."

And he urged that the work to help the reconstruction in Haiti continue.

His maternal health initiative was also highlighted. It has been a controversial here as the Liberals tried, and then failed, to make it an issue about abortion - one that they hoped would divide the Tory caucus.

"Let me say that again: if the world's richest and most powerful nations do not deal with the world's hardest and most intractable problems, they simply will not be dealt with," Mr. Harper said.

(Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

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