ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland (Reuters) - Canada on Wednesday indicated it would again put off a decision on contributing troops to a U.N. peace operation in Mali, upsetting allies who said the new delay could undermine Canada’s effort to obtain a seat on the Security Council.
The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year said it would consider sending troops to Mali but has taken months longer than predicted to make up its mind amid fears soldiers would die.
Allies had expected an announcement before Canada hosts a peacekeeping conference in November but in a Toronto Star interview published on Wednesday, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the decision would not be made by then.
Unhappy diplomatic sources from three nations said the delay could harm Canada’s efforts to expand its influence in the United Nations, a body that the previous Conservative government treated with suspicion.
“If you want a seat on the Security Council, not being active at the U.N. isn’t helpful,” said one of the sources, who declined to be identified given the sensitivity of the situation.
The United Nations has deployed some 10,000 peacekeepers to Mali to help deal with Islamist militants.
Officials say sending Canadian troops to Mali would inevitably result in casualties, which could prove politically unpopular. Canada lost 158 troops in a 10-year stint in Afghanistan - more per capita than any other nation.
“Being a serious player at the United Nations means not always choosing the safe option,” said a second diplomatic source.
Trudeau came to power in 2015 and declared “Canada is back,” stressing the need for a more progressive foreign policy.
As part of the effort to rebuild ties at the United Nations, Canada said it would commit up to 600 soldiers for possible U.N. deployment, and pressed for one of the Security Council’s 10 non-permanent seats.
Trudeau said on Wednesday that several hundred Canadian troops were taking part in international operations in Latvia, Iraq and Ukraine.
“We are serious about re-engaging with United Nations peace operations but ... we need to make sure we’re doing it right,” he told reporters.
Trudeau, who spoke on the margins of a Cabinet retreat in St. John’s, Newfoundland, is due to go to the United Nations next week and address the General Assembly.
“Canada is there to help, as always, and that is the message I will be bringing,” he said when asked whether the Security Council bid would suffer.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Jonathan Oatis