February 28, 2009 / 4:42 PM / 9 years ago

Harper says Afghan mission major NATO test: report

<p>Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa February 25, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>

TORONTO (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the NATO mission in Afghanistan is a serious test and its failure could have major ramifications for the military alliance, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Harper also said the Iranian government’s ideology was “evil,” the newspaper reported in its online edition late on Friday.

“NATO has taken on a United Nations mission and NATO must succeed or I do think the future of NATO as we’ve known it is in considerable doubt,” Harper said in an interview with the newspaper’s editorial board.

“We have to get our act together ... or NATO will not be able to undertake these kinds of missions in the future. There may be some around the NATO table who don’t think it should. But if that’s their position, that’s not what they are saying.”

As part of the NATO operation, Canada has about 2,700 soldiers based in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan on a mission that is due to end in 2011. More than 100 Canadian soldiers have been killed in the conflict.

The article said Harper was encouraged by President Barack Obama’s decision to increase troop numbers in Afghanistan and that Harper thought the situation needs a return of U.S. focus that had been lost because of the war in Iraq.

“I would encourage the (Obama) administration to really assess what its objectives are and to make sure they are realistic and achievable,” he said.

Harper, who leads a minority Conservative government, also criticized Iran, which the West accuses of covertly seeking to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge.

“It concerns me that we have a regime with both an ideology that is obviously evil, combined with a desire to procure technology to act on that ideology,” Harper said.

“My government is a very strong supporter of the state of Israel and considers the Iranian threats to be absolutely unacceptable and beyond the pale.”

Canada’s relations with Iran have been strained since 2003, when Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi died in custody in Tehran after being arrested.

The Canadian leader also complained that Russia has been testing Canadian airspace in the Arctic more frequently, which he said was “an aggression that is increasingly troublesome.”

Canadian fighter planes scrambled to intercept an approaching Russian bomber less than 24 hours before Obama’s visit to Ottawa last week, Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay said on Friday.

Reporting by Jeffrey Hodgson; editing by Mohammad Zargham

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