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Baird non-committal on $300 million Palestinian funding, which expires Sunday

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OTTAWA - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is making no promises to renew Canada's $300 million in aid spending for the Palestinians.

The five-year commitment expires Sunday, but Baird said he wants to hear directly from the Palestinian Authority before he makes any future funding decisions.

"There's going to be a dialogue to find out what their priorities are," Baird said Thursday, hours before he was due to embark on a lengthy trip through the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

"Some of the projects have fallen a bit short, which is normal. We're committed to finishing those."

Baird will be in the West Bank in about 10 days, part of a trip that begins in Jordan on the weekend, followed by stops in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Cyprus and Israel. He is to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

The government is reviewing the commitment after the Palestinians won a historic UN General Assembly vote in November granting status to the Palestinians as a non-member observer state.

Canada, along with the United States, was one of nine countries in the 194-country assembly that voted against the Palestinian statehood bid.

"We have a fundamental difference of opinion with the Palestinian Authority. They know our views well," Baird said.

"But I think it's tremendously important in my responsibilities to engage in dialogue and I look forward to several meetings in the West Bank during my time in the region."

The Palestinian aid money goes toward strengthening its justice system, private sector economic development, and health and education assistance.

"We've done a lot of support with the United States on developing their capacity of law enforcement and security. I think those investments are some of the best investments we've made in this country."

Israel said earlier this week that it would restart its regular monthly transfers of about $100 million in taxes that it collects for the Palestinian Authority, which has struggled to pay the salaries of its government employees.

Israel recently stopped the transfers to the Palestinians after its November win at the UN.

Baird is expected to spend several days in Israel over the weekend of April 6. He will hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others.

Baird also said the ongoing "humanitarian crisis" in Syria and the concerns over Iran's pursuit of a nuclear program would also be top of mind during his travels.

Baird reiterated Canada's support of the so-called "P5-plus-one" group of countries that is negotiating with Iran — the U.S., Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France, plus Germany — as well as Canada's weariness with the ongoing talks.

"This is not something without a timeline," said Baird. "We cannot continuously engage in these talkfests with an indefinite timeline."

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