TORONTO, NOV. 28 -- The government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney today declared that it will support a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing force after Jan. 15 to free Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.
Opening a debate in Parliament on the Persian Gulf conflict, Foreign Minister Joe Clark said that "time is running out," and that the U.N. resolution is essential to "assure that Iraq understands that this is not a bluff." Canada is a member of the Security Council.
Rejecting opposition arguments that more time is needed to allow the effects of a U.N. economic embargo against Iraq to take hold and squeeze Iraqi President Saddam Hussein into withdrawing his troops from Kuwait, Clark said, "To abandon the unanimity and the consensus found in the United Nations now would be to abandon all hope for international order."
Asking rhetorically whether adoption of the council's resolution would automatically lead to war in the Middle East, Clark replied, "That is up to Iraq."
However, reflecting growing unease among many Canadians that their nations may be drawn into a catastrophic war at the beckoning of the United States, opposition leaders in Parliament called on the government in Ottawa to push for a watering down or outright rejection of the U.N. resolution to allow time for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.
Following the Aug. 2 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Canada sent a force of about 1,700 personnel to the gulf, including three naval ships and a squadron of F-18 fighter jets.
Calling the U.N. resolution "premature" and "vague," Herbert Gray, parliamentary leader for the opposition Liberal Party, said, "It is clear that the government is embarking on a path that could lead to war. It does not appear to be interested in finding a peaceful solution."
John Brewin, defense spokesman for the opposition New Democratic Party, was more direct, declaring, "While Iraq is a dangerous enemy, the United States is compiling a military force in the region . . . that makes it a dangerous ally. The hawks in the United States seem to treat war as some kind of football game."
The question of Canada's participation in the U.S.-led multinational force arrayed against Iraq has become a contentious issue among Canadians, who view their armed forces as traditionally nonbelligerent and more suited to a peace-keeping role than an offensive war.
A public opinion poll published today by Montreal's La Presse and the Toronto Star newspapers indicated that only 19 percent of Canadians surveyed support a military initiative to push the Iraqis out of Kuwait, while 65 percent said they thought that the economic blockade should be continued without offensive action.
Asked whether they would approve of the involvement of Canadian troops in combat in the gulf if war broke out, 53 percent said they would, while 42 percent disapproved.
The issue became particularly heated last week when the government disclosed that it would have to make budget cuts this year of $350 million to offset the cost of supporting the force in the gulf.