Khan got an earful over PM's Mideast shift

By Bill Curry, Globe and Mail, Sept. 6, 2007.   With a report from Stanley Tromp



MP Wajid Khan heard strong criticism of Canada's pro-Israel approach to the Middle East under the Conservative government as he toured key Muslim and Arab states in the region last fall, documents show.

Mr. Khan, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's adviser on the Middle East, was also warned that a "clash of civilizations" looms unless the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is resolved shortly.

Mr. Khan met with a mix of government officials, professionals and non-governmental organizations, but their names are blacked out in the documents.

"There was a consensus view that, diplomatically, Canada is well-placed to play a constructive role, but also that Canada's credibility in the region has recently been damaged by a perceived shift in Canadian rhetoric on the Middle East," Foreign Affairs official Sam Hanson wrote.

The document, which summarized the views of the "interlocutors" who spoke with Mr. Khan in the Palestinian territories, also pinpointed Canada's "recent UN votes, as well as what many cast as an 'uncompromising and unhelpful' no contact policy towards Hamas."

Under the heading "Egyptian advice to Canada," Mr. Hanson reported a widely held perception that Canadian policy in the region had shifted. "Freezing out Hamas means you do not accept the need to move ahead," one Egyptian was quoted as telling Mr. Khan.

The Conservative government came to power the same month that Hamas won elections to lead the Palestinian Authority in January, 2006. The Harper government was one of the first countries to sever financial and diplomatic ties with the Hamas-led authority.

The release of the documents is the latest development regarding the Mississauga MP's fall, 2006, trip, which has been shrouded in mystery and political controversy. Elected as a Liberal, Mr. Khan was appointed by the Prime Minister in June, 2006 as an adviser and was sent three months later to tour the Middle East. Though Mr. Khan promised to release a public report on his trip, the Conservative government later said the report would not be released. In January, 2007, Mr. Khan crossed the floor to join the Tories.

Using the Access to Information Act, The Globe and Mail requested copies of any report submitted by Mr. Khan or officials in relation to the trip. Heavily redacted documented have now been released, but there is no sign of a report written by Mr. Khan.

Instead, the 48 pages contain e-mail updates sent during the trip by Mr. Hanson, a regional policy co-ordinator with the Foreign Affairs Department who accompanied Mr. Khan and his political aide as the trio visited Syria, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian territories, Israel, Egypt and Lebanon.

The government's main reasons for redacting Mr. Hanson's e-mails were that sections contained policy advice, personal information or statements that could damage international relations.