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Birdwatching for PM, wife

Couple visits Israeli sanctuary that will be named for Harper

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper walks through the synagogue at Capernaum, Israel on Wednesday.

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge Image

Prime Minister Stephen Harper walks through the synagogue at Capernaum, Israel on Wednesday.

JERUSALEM -- One day, it was throngs of jubilant Israelis reaching out to touch Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The next, it was flocks of cranes close enough to touch descending upon a swampy valley to put on a show for Harper and his wife, Laureen, who delighted in the spectacle.

The Harpers visited the bird sanctuary in Israel's picturesque Hula Valley, one that will soon be renamed in honour of the prime minister due to his full-throated support of the Jewish state since he came to power eight years ago.

Along with some members of the Canadian delegation in the Middle East this week with Harper, the prime ministerial couple was pulled around the sanctuary by a tractor on Wednesday as they sat in an open-air trailer on a hazy afternoon.

They marvelled at the tens of thousands of common cranes being fed simultaneously -- and very noisily -- by sanctuary workers. At one point, Harper stood up in the vehicle and peered through binoculars to get an even closer look.

The couple laughed when the vehicle pulling the media pool got stuck in the mud, particularly when one reporter jokingly called out for Harper's help. The Harpers and some members of the delegation, including Sen. Linda Frum, Development Minister Christian Paradis and Trade Minister Ed Fast, waved cheerfully to the media after a brief groundbreaking ceremony.

Before departing for Jordan, Harper accepted an honorary doctorate from the University of Tel Aviv, where he told the audience he didn't share in the elation that first greeted the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt three years ago.

"I think we should all be chastened by the lessons over the last two or three years," Harper said during a stage-managed question-and-answer session.

"There was a lot of enthusiasm, unbridled enthusiasm, in much of the West for the revolution in Egypt and with very good reason. We were a little more cautious."

That caution was borne out as Egyptian elections were used not to foster democracy, but to move toward an authoritarian, Islamic state, he said.

Harper also said he welcomes the stability that followed the military ouster of president Mohamed Morsi.

"At the same time, we understand if the new government is to be truly successful over time in Egypt, they do have to transition toward a democratic order and obviously with respect for human rights and the rule of law."

He also repeated his suspicions about Iran's willingness to follow the terms of its interim agreement on slowing its nuclear research program.

He said he isn't interested in "the nobility of the words," and wants to see real, verifiable results.

The delegation arrived late Wednesday in Jordan, where -- given his earlier unabashed expression of Canadian support for Israel -- it's not unreasonable to assume Harper should expect a decidedly more muted reception.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 23, 2014 A10

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