Thank you very much.
I want to thank you for the opportunity to be with you this afternoon. I will keep my comments short and I will be pleased to answer any questions you may have after.
It has now been almost a year since I took on my new responsibilities as foreign minister.
I last appeared before you in December, and since then many situations around the world have changed, and changed dramatically.
The situation in Syria is of great concern to us all. Canada acted swiftly in condemning the Assad regime's violent attacks against the Syrian people. We imposed a series of sanctions directed at Syria's rulers and their funding sources.
We have also activated a voluntary evacuation of Canadians in Syria, where we have facilitated the departure of literally hundreds of Canadians. During that time, in the month or so to follow, our ambassador stayed in place while the staff was scaled down. The safety of our embassy staff was paramount in our decision to continue operations. Last week we felt the security situation had escalated to a point where we could no longer be comfortable with keeping our staff in Damascus.
The international community continues to stand united with the Syrian people, and while a select few countries chose to obstruct substantial progress in international forums, the Friends of the Syrian People group will be a key forum to delve into the situation even further.
I hope to be travelling to the second of these meetings very shortly.
Make no mistake about it, those who chose to obstruct a resolution on Syria will have the blood of the Syrian people on their hands, and history will be their judge.
In that general neighbourhood, Iran continues to pose a significant threat to not just the region but indeed to the entire planet. I can quell the concerns of the committee by unequivocally stating it is our fundamental belief that every peaceful, diplomatic measure must be taken in this affair.
Sanctions are beginning to have a real effect in the country, and the international community needs to redouble its efforts in this regard.
Our responsibility as parliamentarians and my role as Minister of Foreign Affairs is to represent Canada's fundamental values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We keep these values in mind when judging all situations we are faced with. That will always be the case.
For those who balk at sanctions as a weak tool of change, I can only point to my latest travels. The transformations in Burma are something about which we are all cautiously optimistic. Though we await further reforms by the Burmese government as well as the results of byelections in April, we can't help but be struck by what we are seeing. I urge Burma's president to continue on this course and continue that dialogue with his foreign minister, but I'm also pleased to say that I brought several books detailing our parliamentary democracy at the request of Burma's Speaker.
I am proud to have had the opportunity to be the first Canadian foreign minister to visit Burma, and I must give this committee my assessment of Aung San Suu Kyi. This may be one of the most impressive individuals who I have met in my 15 years in public life. Her commitment to the Burmese people is unwavering and her determination to make a more inclusive, free society is relentless. I am very proud to have presented her with her honorary Canadian citizenship on behalf of the House of Commons and the Government of Canada, which voted unanimously to grant it to her, so thank you.
In closing, I remember my committee appearance last December when I told the committee that Foreign Affairs is becoming more and more an economic portfolio.
As minister, I consider the situation in light of our values but also of our economic interests. We have noticed that these interests are favourably regarded worldwide. The Prime Minister accomplished great things in China, all over the ASEAN area and in Latin America. Canadians can be proud of these accomplishments.
Trade diversification is crucial to our future prosperity. Laying the foundation for these economic programs is largely about the relationships we build. That is fundamental, and that is what I have been striving to achieve.
Laying the foundation for this economic progress is largely about the relationships we build. That is fundamental, and that is what I have been striving to achieve.
Let me finish by saying that almost everyone around this committee table has taken me up on my previous offer for briefings from Foreign Affairs officials. I continue to extend that invitation, now and on an ongoing basis.
I continue to look forward to our solid working relationship. I think we give Canadians hope when they see us working together on this important policy area. My door is always open.
With that, I'm happy to turn it over to my colleague.