Canadian parties show signs of Afghan compromise

Tue Feb 12, 2008 5:27pm EST
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By Randall Palmer and David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's minority government and the main opposition party signaled their desire on Tuesday to find a compromise position on the country's military mission in Afghanistan, easing the likelihood of an election over the divisive issue.

The ruling Conservatives have said that if Parliament does not extend the mission in the southern city of Kandahar, currently scheduled to end in February 2009, the government would fall and Canada would head into an election.

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Tuesday that the opposition Liberals and the Conservatives now fundamentally agree that the 2,500 troops should stay until 2011, and both he and Liberal leader Stephane Dion talked about finding common ground.

"We are willing in good faith to explore ... if there is a common ground with our motion that may allow an agreement," Dion said after presenting a series of proposals that would replace a government motion on the Afghan mission.

The Liberals plan would keep the troops in Afghanistan until July 2011, but they would concentrate on training Afghan forces and providing security for reconstruction and development.

The idea is to wind down the active combat mission against the Taliban, though this language was absent from the Liberal text.

The mission in Kandahar is one of the most controversial topics in domestic politics. Polls regularly show that about half of Canadians want the soldiers back on schedule.

Less than half an hour after Dion finished speaking, Harper told reporters he welcomed the Liberal Party's ideas.   Continued...