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Battle extremism with economic growth and trade, Harper tells UN

Jessica Hume. (Andre Forget/QMI AGENCY)

By Jessica Hume, National Bureau

NEW YORK - Prime Minister Stephen Harper called on the international community to focus on economic growth and deeper trade relationships as a way to counter global strife and extremism - and made a funding pitch for his top foreign aid initiative.

Setting aside any hawkish tones in his address Thursday at the annual United Nations General Assembly - the third time he's taken the podium there since becoming prime minister - Harper called on the global community to contribute to ongoing efforts to improve maternal and child health in the world's poorest countries.

This year's annual high-level powwow of heads of state and government in New York has been largely focused on the world's seemingly endless hot spots - the security threat posed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the need to curb foreign fighters flooding overseas to take up arms for ISIS and other terror groups, Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

Harper acknowledged those threats and Canada's willingness to join in efforts to tackle them.

"Today, there are many embattled parts of the world where the suffering of local populations and the threats to global security deserve our urgent attention, and I could easily use my entire time here on any one of them," he said Thursday night.

"There are, however, other areas of service to humanity."

Harper said the international community should remember that trade, jobs and economic growth, and effective development aid can assist in battling extremism and radicalization.

"Where human misery abounds, where grinding poverty is the rule, where justice is systematically denied, there is no real peace, only the seeds of future conflict," he said.

He underscored the progress made by the global community on improving maternal and child health - an initiative spearheaded by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon following an effort launched by the Conservative government at the G-8 meeting in Muskoka in 2010, and one in which Harper has taken a leadership role.

"We have seen success, and we have momentum," he said. "Saving the lives of children and mothers is a fight we can win.

"To get it done, two things are needed now: the political focus and renewed financial commitment."

Harper called himself an "optimist" that the world will see progress and not be defined by violence and extremism. "‹

Earlier in the day, Harper joined a panel with Ban Ki-moon, where they announced a new financial facility at the World Bank to help fund improvements in the health of newborns, children and mothers in developing nations.

Harper was accompanied to New York by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird , who said Thursday the Conservative government had to seek advice from Canadian military advisers and "colleagues in the House of Commons" before making any additional commitments to Canada's current involvement in the U.S.-led military campaign against ISIS in Iraq.

He said if Canada did get involved in any direct combat mission - including airstrikes - it would be debated in Parliament.

On Wednesday, Harper told a New York business audience that Canada is open to more direct military involvement in the U.S. coalition following a request from the Americans.

Canada currently has several dozen troops - including special forces - in Iraq in an advisory role, and has sent humanitarian aid and logistics support.

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