Iran and Diplomatic Relations

Iranian-Canadian Liberal MP expresses concern about Iranian protests but defers on re-establishing diplomatic ties

‘It’s important going forward, that all governments are in solidarity with the Iranians, that we judge the Iranian government not by their words but by their actions,’ says Liberal MP Ali Ehsassi.

Protests against the Iranian government in Kermanshah, Iran, on Dec. 29. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia CommonsBy JOLSON LIM

PUBLISHED :Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018 3:50 PM

Iranian-Canadian rookie Liberal MP Ali Ehassi says the heavy-handed response to massive street protests against the government in Iran is “heart-wrenching” to watch, though remained tight-lipped on whether he continues to support efforts by the Trudeau government to reopen diplomatic ties with the country.

In an interview, Mr. Ehsassi (Willowdale, Ont.) told The Hill Times he’s closely following the situation in Iran, and believes that the interests and narratives propagated by the Iranian regime are different from those of the Iranian people.

“It’s important going forward, that all governments are in solidarity with the Iranians, that we judge the Iranian government not by their words but by their actions,” he said, noting that since the protests began, he has spoken to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.) and members of the Iranian-Canadian community about the ongoing unrest.

Asked whether he supports his party’s view that Canada should re-establish formal diplomatic ties with Iran, Mr. Ehsassi said only that it’s “important” to reach out to members of the Iranian community in Canada.

“I think it’s important that Global Affairs Canada consults closely our allies around the world. I think it’s important to not jump to any conclusions prematurely,” he said, calling the protests against the Iranian government as “one of those moments where we may have to take stock of things.”

Mr. Ehsassi lived in Iran for five years as a child and comes from a family of Iranian diplomats and statesmen associated with Pahlavi dynasty. Following the 1979 Iranian revolution that toppled the Pahlavi dynasty and brought to power a theocratic republic, his parents left the country and settled in Canada.

The first-term MP attended a rally in Toronto on Jan. 7 expressing solidarity with the protesters and their demands that also brought out Liberal MP Michael Levitt (York Centre, Ont.) and Conservative MP Peter Kent (Thornhill, Ont.). The protests, which began late last year, have seen thousands of Iranians take to the street to express anger with deteriorating economic conditions and government restrictions against public expression.

The Iranian government has responded by detaining demonstrators, censoring media coverage, and limiting access to social media channels that could potentially be used to help organize rallies, drawing stern criticism from the West. At least 21 people are believed to have died in the protests, while about 3,700 demonstrators have been detained, according to media reports.

Amid the protests, fellow Iranian-Canadian Liberal MP Mr. Jowhari (Richmond Hill, Ont.) drew criticism for posting a photo last month on Twitter of a statement from Ms. Freeland expressing hope that the protesters would be able to freely air their grievances with “support of its elected government.”

Conservative MP and party foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole (Durham, Ont.) called Mr. Jowhari’s actions “inappropriate,” and said the tweet was “a preposterous presentation.”

When reached, the office of Ms. Jowhari said he was unavailable for an interview and did not respond to requests for an email statement. The rookie MP represents a suburban Toronto riding that has the highest percentage of Iranians-Canadians.

It’s not the first time Mr. Jowhari has weathered allegations of supporting the interests of the Iranian regime.

He attracted criticism for meeting last year with an Iranian parliamentary delegation at his constituency office without the involvement of Global Affairs Canada. The meeting was purportedly about forming a Canada-Iran parliamentary friendship group, according to reporting by a Richmond Hill newspaper.

He was also slammed for allegedly stacking a meeting with then-Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion and members of the Iranian-Canadian community with delegates supportive of Canada restoring diplomatic ties with the country, rather than those critical of the existing regime.

“I really worry when it appears that there’s positions taken with respect to foreign countries that aren’t within our national interest, that are being advanced by our MP, that’s inappropriate and the prime minister should call him on the carpet, I think, to see where his loyalty lies,” Mr. O’Toole told The Hill Times.

“There’s now been enough things that I’ve heard over the last year or so, mainly from Iranian-Canadian community that causes a lot of MPs’ concern.”

Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC) president Bijan Ahmadi defended Mr. Jowhari, arguing the tweet was taken “out of context.”

He told The Hill Times that recent media coverage has unfairly portrayed Iranian-Canadians as a “monolithic community,” and claimed there haven’t been enough pro-diplomacy viewpoints in the public debate.

Ever since Mr. Jowhari began pushing for re-establishing diplomatic ties after he was elected in 2015, he started “getting these attacks from certain political groups, especially groups whose sole agenda is to isolate the Iranian government,” according to Mr. Ahmadi.

Mr. Ehsassi said he was out of the country during the holidays when Mr. Jowhari’s posted his tweet and couldn’t “shed light on what exactly he meant by his statement,” adding that he hasn’t spoken to him.

Asked about whether he and Mr. Jowhari had differences in opinion, Mr. Ehsassi said “I’m truly not aware of any individual who has identical views with me on any given issue. We all have different perspectives on issues.”

He wouldn’t say whether he believed criticisms hurled at Mr. Jowhari are unfair.

“What I can say, as an MP, I think each and every single one of us is supposed to try the best to their ability to talk to our constituents. I never try to pass my own judgement onto others. Our job is to advocate on behalf of our constituents,” he said.

Canadian government denies Iranian media report hinting at new meetings

Last month, Iranian media quoted a senior government official saying that the country would be sending a delegation “at the directorate general level” to Canada in the new year.

However, Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Brittany Venhola-Fletcher told The Hill Times there are no plans for any future meetings with Canadian and Iranian officials in Canada.

“There are ongoing discussions, but no timeline has been established and no meetings have been confirmed. Discussions have taken place among officials and at the ministerial level. Minister Freeland has spoken with Foreign Minister Zarif, including at the UN General Assembly in New York,” she explained.

She also stated that there had been no meetings to discuss re-establishing diplomatic ties ever held in Canada.

In October and May, Canadian officials travelled to Tehran to hold talks with the Iranian government. However, the Canadian government cautioned that many issues needed to be addressed before Canada could open an mission in the Persian country.

Five rounds of talks have already been held between the two countries at the expert level, Mr. Keshavarzzadeh, the general director of American affairs in the country’s foreign ministry, told Mehr news agency on Dec. 16, though Global Affairs Canada has not confirmed that.

When asked about the effect of the protests on negotiations, Ms. Venhola-Fletche referred to Mr. Freeland’s previous statement calling direct engagement with the Iranian regime as the “most effective tool to hold Iran to account,” though expressing concern about the government’s crackdown of freedom of expression and support of known terrorist organizations.

Opponents of diplomatic engagement have decried the Iranian regime for its litany of human rights abuses, suggesting the recent unrest serving as an example of why Canada should back out of re-engagement. Supporters have argued that the Iranian-Canadians are cut off from much-needed consular services and that it’s more productive to engage with the regime diplomatically than not.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, told The Hill Times that protests against the Iranian government wouldn’t threaten to derail the dialogue on re-establishing diplomatic ties because the government sees human rights and diplomatic re-engagement as “two separate tracks.”

“It’s consistent with the Trudeau approach to engagement and commitment to multilateralism,” he said, noting that Canada, despite applying sanctions on Russia, still has diplomatic relations with the Kremlin.

Mr. O’Toole called on Canada to reassess any decision towards re-establishing diplomatic ties, saying it would be used by the Iranian regime in “propaganda efforts” to further its interests in the Middle East.

However, Mr. Ahmadi said if there is any reassessment by Canadian officials, it would only “re-confirm that we need to be in Iran.”

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Canada and Iran

Release of jailed Canadian a sign Liberals making progress in relations with Iran

Marie-Danielle Smith | September 26, 2016 9:02 PM ET

OTTAWA — While Montreal Professor Homa Hoodfar was still imprisoned in Iran, Canadian and Iranian officials held several meetings this summer to negotiate the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, according to a source close to the Foreign Ministry.

Though impasses remain, some experts say Hoodfar’s release on Monday is a sign the Liberal government is making progress on a promise to reopen channels cut off when the previous Conservative government severed ties with Iran in 2012.

In the meetings, officials discussed irritants that could hinder progress. Iranians highlighted the Conservative-era Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, which allows “victims of terrorism” to sue foreign governments labelled as state sponsors of terrorism — an issue that proved a “show-stopper” in negotiations, the source said.

Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion, who said earlier this year he has no intention of taking Iran off that list, met his Iranian counterpart for the first time at UN General Assembly meetings last week.

At the meeting, Dion brought up the cases of the imprisoned Iranian-Canadian professor and the children of Alison Azer, who were taken to Iran by their father more than a year ago.

Oman News Agency via AP

Oman News Agency via APRetired Iranian-Canadian professor Homa Hoodfar, left, speaks to the media in Muscat airport, Oman, after being released by Iranian authorities, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016While Azer’s plight continues, Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA reported Monday that the 65-year-old professor had been freed on humanitarian grounds and flown out of the country.

Margie Mendell, a Concordia professor and close friend, said Hoodfar’s niece, Amanda Ghahremani, met her in Oman, the first stop on her journey home.

“She’s very frail, she looks extremely thin … and very worn,” Mendell said of a report she received. “I suspect that she’s not in good health, but she’s free, she’s free and she’s out of Iran and she will get medical care and her medication.”

Hoodfar suffers from a serious neurological condition and her family had said requests for a check-up by an independent specialist doctor while jailed were ignored.

She was arrested and sent to Tehran’s Evin prison on June 6. The exact reasons for her detention were never made public but her family and colleagues have indicated she ran afoul of Iranian authorities due to her research on homosexuality and women’s sexuality in the context of Muslim countries.

Nader Hashemi, a Canadian professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Denver, said he thinks the timing of her release is not a coincidence.

Jacques Boissinot/CP

Jacques Boissinot/CPForeign Minister Stéphane Dion

“I suspect that now the prospects of diplomatic relations are much better today than they were yesterday,” Hashemi said Monday. “This was, I think, a condition that Ottawa placed before Iran.”

A statement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government had been “actively and constructively engaged at the highest levels” in Hoodfar’s case. The statement confirmed Canada worked with officials from countries with embassies in Tehran, including Oman, Italy and Switzerland.

“The government of Canada is committed to a step-by-step re-engagement with Iran. Engagement is a tougher path but a necessary one to deal more effectively with Middle East security issues and to hold Iran to account on human rights,” said Kristine Racicot, a spokeswoman for Global Affairs Canada.

Not all are convinced that this is a step in the right direction.

The Iranians still have “a great deal of explaining to do” with regards to Hoodfar’s imprisonment, said Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent.

“I don’t want to speculate, but my gut tells me it has more to do with them not wanting to have yet another death that they can’t explain on their hands,” he said, a theory Hashemi also mentioned since recent reports indicated Hoodfar’s health was deteriorating.

“We are highly skeptical of any talks that may be going on at the moment,” he said, adding that based on Iran’s behaviour, “we believe that any discussions with the regime are of no value.”

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said for Canadian consular cases, “it’s better to be there.”

“We’ve got a lot of Canadians who would be considered dual nationals, and if you’re not there, you can’t protect their interests,” he said of putting Canadian officials in Tehran.

“This government has put a priority on people, and that would probably be something that was underlined in the feelers that were probably put out — that before we can move forward, we’ve got to see evidence of better behaviour.”

Still, this is going to be “more of a waltz rather than a quick tango,” Robertson said.

Peter Jones, associate professor at the University of Ottawa, noted that while the Iranian foreign ministry is “keen to re-establish relations” with Canada, its intelligence services and the Revolutionary Guard are much less eager.

A cautious step forward could be to accredit ambassadors in neighbouring countries, Jones said, who’d be able to visit Iran and work on Canadians’ consular cases without having to open an embassy.

Even that would be a boon for Alison Azer, whose four children were kidnapped to Iran by their father more than a year ago.

“One of the problems with Alison’s case is there is no diplomatic representation in Tehran to pursue the grievances and the problems that Canadian citizens have,” Hashemi said. “Up until now she’s had the door frozen shut.”

In a statement to the National Post Monday, Azer said she was happy to learn of Hoodfar’s release. “This demonstrates what diplomacy from the highest levels of government can accomplish,” she said.

“Today’s news gives me cautious optimism I will be reunited with my four beautiful children soon.”

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Canada and Iran-Saudi Tensions: You need to be there to be useful

Harper government’s break with Iran leaves Canada without influence in Saudi spat: experts

Iranian demonstrators chant slogans and hold anti-Saudi placards and flags during a rally to protest the execution by Saudi Arabia last week of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent opposition Saudi Shiite cleric, by Saudi Arabia, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iranian demonstrators chant slogans and hold anti-Saudi placards and flags during a rally to protest the execution by Saudi Arabia last week of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent opposition Saudi Shiite cleric, by Saudi Arabia, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The Harper government’s closing of Canada’s embassy in Tehran in 2012 leaves Ottawa virtually impotent to exercise any kind of influence to reduce the inflamed tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, former diplomats and foreign affairs experts suggest.

“If we’re not in one of the two critical capitals, it’s hard to bring analysis and on the site expertise. We just don’t have that,” said Colin Robertson, vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and a former Canadian diplomat.  “Until we have people on the ground in Tehran, we’re handicapped.”

Tension between Saudi Arabia, the major Sunni Muslim power in the region and Iran, the major Shiite player, has sharpened over the past several days following the execution by Saudi Arabia of a prominent Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr along with 46 others accused of terrorism.

Iranian protestors attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran, the capital of Iran, following the news, causing Saudi Arabia to announce it was cutting diplomatic ties with Iran — and prompting multiple Middle Eastern Sunni countries, including Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, to follow suit and restrict their own relations with the Islamic Republic.

The Harper government cut off diplomatic relations with Iran in 2012 and formally listed it a state sponsor of terrorism. All Canadian diplomats were pulled out of the country, leaving Canada powerless to act even as a back-channel between the two rivals in the current conflict.

“Iran would not be willing to even consider, let alone accept, a conciliatory role for Canada,” said Thomas Juneau, former strategic analyst on the Middle East for the Department of National Defence and an associate professor with the University of Ottawa.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during the election campaign that he would restore diplomatic relations with Iran if elected but has not yet said when that will happen.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Tony Clement said Monday on CBC News’ Power & Politics that Canada should hold off restoring relations with Iran until it shows it is willing to behave better.

But any changes to Trudeau’s plans are unlikely, experts say, because the conflict is throwing the need for accurate intelligence into sharp relief.

“I think the pressure is just to get a more informed view of what’s happening in the region by having diplomatic representation on the ground,” said Scott Heatherington, former director of then-Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development’s foreign intelligence division. “I would expect that to continue, notwithstanding what’s happening this week.”

Adam Chapnick, a professor at the Royal Military College specializing in Canadian foreign policy, agreed, saying the conflict emphasizes the need for Canada to get people on the ground in Tehran if it wants to have any role in influencing or even mediating outcomes in the Middle East.

Canada’s long-term economic and security interests also mean that Iran is too important a player to simply ignore, as the Conservatives did, Chapnick said.

“If you want to have influence in a region, you need to have eyes and ears on the ground,” he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion issued a statement Monday morning expressing concern at the executions and the potential they have for further inflaming sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shias.

Global Affairs Canada also declined a request from iPolitics to speak with Canada’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, offering instead a brief emailed statement.

“Canada regrets the incidents which have led to Saudi Arabia’s decision to sever its diplomatic relations with Iran,” departmental spokesman Francois Lasalle said. “We urge countries of the region to work with all communities to defuse these tensions and promote reconciliation. We also call on Iran to protect diplomatic premises on its territory as per the Vienna Convention.”

The government also said Monday the strife will not impact the $15-billion deal it has with the Saudi government for the sale of light armoured vehicles.

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Remembering Ken Taylor

Remembering Ken Taylor: ‘An unconventional diplomat’

Oysters, martinis, and effective diplomacy. A colleague remembers former diplomat Ken Taylor

October 15, 2015

Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador to Iran, briefs a reporter on the current conditions in Iran one week before leaving Iran with six Americans in a 1980 file photo. Taylor, who sheltered six U.S. citizens during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, has died, says a family friend THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Peter BreggPeter Bregg/CP

On news of the death of Ken Taylor, at 81, I called Colin Robertson, another former Canadian diplomat, who served under Taylor in the early 1980s in New York, soon after Taylor became a hero for his role in hiding six Americans in Tehran during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979. Robertson, who lives in Ottawa now and works with the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, spoke about Taylor’s glory days following the “Canadian Caper.”

Q: What were your thoughts on hearing that your old boss had died?

A: Ken was a great Canadian patriot, a hero, but Ken was also really cool. I first met him when I was posted to New York in 1980, and he had of course already performed the great “Canadian Caper” in Tehran, and the government had appointed him our consul general there, partly because of his celebrity, the magnetism Ken had, and the importance of New York to the diplomatic establishment.

Q: So it was a good fit.

A: He took the town by storm. Anywhere he went. Even before he arrived, we saw it. Americans everywhere would thank us for what we’d done. Sending Ken to New York was exactly the right thing. He fit right into that highly cosmopolitan city, but he was still proudly Canadian. We had issues he was able to advance.

Q: What was he like to work under?

A: He was an unconventional diplomat, certainly for that era. First of all, he didn’t wear the classic blue suit; he always was always in a fashionable suit that suited him. Of course, he had that great hair, all the curls, and then the dark glasses that were his signature. Always a smile on his face. He was always approachable and personable. He had no desk in his office. He had a coffee table. You’d sit around it and deal with issues.

Q: He must have made quite an impression on you as a new guy.

A: I traveled with him as a junior officer. In his briefcase, there was always a novel—Bonfire of the Vanities—or a magazine—Sports Illustrated. It wasn’t the heavy-duty stuff. I remember him teasing me. I was traveling with a copy of Foreign Affairs. He said, “Colin, you gotta lighten up.”

There’s one episode that really sticks with me. We were traveling up to Yale, where he had a series of speeches to give. We didn’t take the car. He said, no, let’s take the train, because we could go to the bar car and have a martini. After we’d had oysters at Grand Central Station. And we talked. He pointed out that it was really important to understand the society as a whole if you were going to be a good diplomat. It wasn’t straight politics, or economics, or trade; it was understanding the culture in which you were working and having an empathy for it.

Q: You saw that in his way of doing diplomacy?

A: Ken had empathy for everybody, including the Iranian people. Remember, this was a time where the Iranians were not terribly popular, because of what had happened to the United States. He had a way—his own gentle way—of encouraging Americans that while they might have a disagreement with the Ayatollah and ruling elite in Iran, the Iranian people had great affection for America, and never break those links.

Q: And you feel that was effective, not just a nice way of looking at the world?

A: Ken defied the traditional norms of diplomacy, but he always achieved what we set out to. He was remarkably effective. As a boss, you couldn’t help but like him. He left it to you to get the job done. He wasn’t a micro-manager in any sense. He traveled a great deal because he was in great demand. But when he was there, it was just fun and interesting and you learned the craft. This how he did business. I’ve talked to people who were with him in Tehran, and before, and this is how he was. He created a sense of team around a shared purpose.

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Iran, the Bomb and Canada

Why Canada should reopen its embassy in Tehran

Colin Robertson  The Globe and Mail  Wednesday, Apr. 15 2015

In diplomacy, as in life, perfection can be the enemy of the good. The Lausanne framework negotiated between Iran and six world powers – the U.S., Russia, China, U.K., France and Germany – to contain Iran’s nuclear arms is not perfect. But if the framework becomes a formal agreement by June 30, it would be good.

This continuing process deserves Canadian support and Canada could do more to verify Iranian compliance as well as actively promote non-proliferation.

Hurdles remain, including bridging the interpretive divergences between the various parties over the framework.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns that leaving Iranian nuclear capacity intact “paves Iran’s path to the bomb.” Mr. Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon pose pertinent questions:

Any deal that lifts sanctions will require approval from the U.S. Congress. Capitol Hill will want answers to the kinds of questions posed by the experts from the Iran Project, a group of former diplomats and scholars with the goal of improving relations between the U.S. and Iran. These issues include:

  • Sequencing for lifting sanctions
  • Means for limiting Iran’s enriched uranium

Israeli opposition aside, the Saudis and other Gulf Arabs worry that an Iran-U.S. breakthrough will radically change regional geopolitics.

Suspicions run deep over Iran’s nuclear and political ambitions. A combination of declining oil revenues and sanctions persuaded Iran to come to the bargaining table and there are already divisions in Iran’s leadership over the framework.

Since 1979, Iran has provoked the international community at many levels: its domestic abuse of human rights; its expansionism of the Shia revolution regionally; its support of terrorist groups within the Islamic world and beyond; and its nuclear program.

In 2003, Western negotiators reached agreement with then-Iranian negotiator and now President Hassan Rouhani. That deal unravelled in hostility and mistrust and the UN reimposed sanctions over Iranian cheating.

But re-engagement and diplomacy make more sense than military threats. Retired U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, a leader of the Iran Project, observes that “deployment of military force can bring the immediate illusion of ‘success’ but always results in unforeseen consequences and collateral damage.”

With its regional alliances, Iran portrays itself as a counterpole to U.S. influence. Inevitably, roads to Middle East peace will pass through Tehran. In dealing with adversaries, Ambassador Pickering argues, greater knowledge and close contact is the surer way to conflict resolution.

It has been 70 years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While the nuclear club has expanded, the lid on using nuclear arms has endured. But conditions change as the nuclear powers reinvest in the quality of their arsenals and second-strike capacities.

Arms-control negotiations still matter. The U.S. and Russia hold the most nuclear arms and their arms-reduction efforts have been sustained, comprehensive and mostly successful although recent events have chilled progress. There are various multinational tables, with U.S. President Barack Obama revitalizing the process at the leaders’ level. China and the U.S. would like to revive moribund negotiations with North Korea.

Canada has both history and a stake in non-proliferation. Canadian scientists, working at Chalk River, Ont., contributed to the development of the atomic bomb. Meeting in July, 1957, in Pugwash, N.S., Canadian scientists led the movement to eschew nuclear arms. Canada’s decision to only use nuclear power for peaceful purposes set the example that most nations have followed. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, we contributed to the removal and destruction of their spent nuclear fuel.

Mines in northern Saskatchewan, on lands shared with First Nations, provide about a third of the world’s uranium. Canada could radically change the nuclear game by declaring permanent ownership of our uranium and limit sales for use in multinational enrichment facilities that take back or safely dispose of spent fuel but do not separate plutonium. We would collaborate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and encourage Australia, the world’s other major uranium producer, to join us as permanent stewards.

Our game-changing initiative would literally put the nuclear genie – the spent fuel – back into the mines from which it came. The business opportunity for innovation, in which First Nations would be major stakeholders, is obvious.

If, as Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson said in reacting to the framework negotiated in Lausanne, we will “continue to judge Iran by its actions not its words,” we should reopen our embassy in Tehran. In September, 2012, then-Foreign Minister John Baird suspended diplomatic relations and closed the Canadian embassy, citing Iranian abuse of human rights and its support for terrorism. Restoring diplomatic relations does not mean regime endorsement.

Diplomacy is about being there. Having eyes and ears on the ground will inform our perspective, help our allies, advance our interests and keep the bomb at bay.

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Keeping weapons out of the wrong hands

Air travel is difficult enough without worrying about missiles

Colin Robertson  The Globe and Mail  Tuesday, Jul. 22 2014

The tragic fate of those aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, apparently downed by a surface-to-air missile, has sparked global public sympathy for the victims and condemnation for those responsible.

Our best hope of containing this threat to air travel is to act quickly by tightening international covenants on access to weaponry that takes down aircraft.

The source of the missile and launcher that downed Flight 17 appears to be Russian but there are other potential sources for would-be copycats. The sources for the Hamas rockets against Israel likely include Iran, Pakistan and China. The arsenal of the new caliphate, declared by the Sunni-led rebellion against the Iraqi government, now includes captured weapons made in the United States.

Since Cain and Abel too many still subscribe to the quip by the amoral arms merchant, Undershaft, in George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara, that “Nothing is ever done in this world until men are prepared to kill one another if it is not done.”

The arms industry is big business. Given human nature, it’s also a necessary business.

The Stockholm International Peace Institute (SIPRI) estimates the global arms trade to be worth at least $43-billion (U.S.) and likely much higher because many states, notably China, do not release data on arms exports.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department reports that our exports of military goods and technology are worth $635-million (Canadian). Most of it goes to fellow NATO allies, but also to countries including Afghanistan, Egypt, Ukraine and Yemen.

Like most countries, we have in place elaborate export controls and safeguard agreements to ensure our weapons are “not prejudicial to peace, security or stability.” We don’t export to nations on the UN sanctions list or those with “a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights.” All goods destined for North Korea or Belarus require a permit.

Even then, no system is fail-safe.

India developed their nuclear weapons capacity in 1974, sourcing from CANDU reactors. It chilled Indo-Canadian relations for decades until Prime Minister Stephen Harper concluded a nuclear co-operation agreement in 2013 under safeguards applied by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In the arms bazaar, nuclear proliferation is the greatest danger.

Like his predecessors, President Barack Obama, is working to contain proliferation through negotiation, sanctions and international law. Slow and frustrating, there is discernible progress.

Notwithstanding current tensions, Russia and the United States completed a new nuclear arms treaty (START) in 2011, setting out new limits on intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads.

Sanctions have brought Iran to the bargaining table in Geneva. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has concluded there is sufficient “tangible progress” to extend discussions beyond the July 20 deadline.

North Korea remains a problem, still firing missiles and rockets, despite continuing condemnation from the UN Security Council.

A series of international nuclear security summits – Washington, Seoul, the Hague – were initiated by Mr. Obama in 2010.

They have resulted in minimizing the use of highly enriched uranium, higher security standards at nuclear facilities and measures to detect and prevent the illicit trade in nuclear materials.

Canada has pledged funds to help non-proliferation efforts, ratified international covenants on suppression of nuclear terrorism and protection of nuclear materials.

There are similar efforts to curb and control conventional weapons, like that which brought down Flight 17.

The United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, to which Canada was a founding contributor, obliges governments to voluntarily supply data on their imports and exports. Seventy nations, including Canada, have done so consistently.

The Wassenaar arrangement of 41 states, including Canada, aims at preventing transfers of conventional weapons or dual-use goods to illegitimate end-users.

As with nuclear non-proliferation, containing conventional weapons remains a work-in-progress.

Given previous Canadian leadership to curb land mines and small arms, the Harper government’s refusal to sign the UN Arms Trade Treaty is perplexing. It deserves a rethink.

Concerted international action, abetted by technology that improves detection and attribution, can work “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” the UN Charter says.

Chemical weapons killed and blinded tens of thousands during the First World War. Popular revulsion led to the Geneva Protocols proclaiming that “the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases … has been justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilized world.”

The prohibition against chemical weapons endures. When breached – most recently by the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria – there has been sanction and remedial action.

Every day, an estimated 5.4 million people board airplanes. By midday, air traffic over Canada and the United States alone reaches an estimated peak of 5,300 flights.

Confidence in global aviation safety obliges action by the international community. Air travel is difficult enough without worrying about missiles.

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U.S. President Obama piles pressure on Russia's Putin to force Ukraine's separatists to cooperate in crash investigation of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).

Video: Obama pressures Russia, Putin in Ukraine crash probe


Video: Recording may show attempt at crash cover-up
Secretary of State John Kerry expresses disgust over the Russian rebels' mishandling of victims' bodies at the Malaysian plane crash site. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).

Video: Kerry: “Drunken separatists are piling bodies into trucks”

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Canada US Relations: Flashpoints

Harper, Obama need to keep up with the speed of business

The Globe and Mail Tuesday, Nov. 26 2013

Colin Robertson

No drama. In the conduct of Canada-U.S. relations it has been the modus operandi of both Stephen Harper and Barack Obama.

They are in alignment on the big issues of peace and security, economics and trade. Differences on climate change have not interfered with getting things done.

Their big joint initiative – easing border congestion and introducing closer regulatory co-operation – is moving forward despite the countervailing forces of sequester and budget cuts. The security perimeter, necessary for U.S. confidence, has been achieved. Regulatory collaboration is working.

But business wants to see results.

We need measurable progress on getting people, goods and services quickly and efficiently across the border. Canada created a cabinet secretariat that should be made permanent and matched by the United States. As the initiative approaches its second anniversary, both leaders need to give it another personal boost.

Transactional business – problems around bridges and pipelines, roads, rail and seaways – has been handled quietly and efficiently by our ambassadors. As a team, David Jacobson and Gary Doer were especially effective. Unfortunately, the designated new U.S. ambassador, Bruce Heyman, is stuck in limbo, a victim of various senatorial holds on presidential nominations.

Not having a U.S. ambassador in Canada handicaps both countries, especially as there are some potential flashpoints ahead:

– The interim Iranian nuclear deal should be a cause for celebration. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called it an “historic mistake” and Foreign Minister John Baird said he was “deeply skeptical.” Our sanctions will remain in place until there is “verifiable implementation”. Will we break with the U.S.?

– Country of Origin Labelling (COOL). Our leading trade dispute with the USA has been quietly simmering but has taken on new urgency with the new rules now in effect. The dispute is at the World Trade Organization, where, with Mexico, we seek rescinding of the labeling rule that is upsetting century-old cross-border trade in pork and beef. How will this be resolved?

– Keystone XL Pipeline. It has been more than five years since the original application for a presidential permit. With the completion of the second environmental assessment, there was an expectation that the decision would be made this year. Will it happen?

– Windsor-Detroit second crossing. Canada and Ontario are putting up $500-million to finance the U.S.-Michigan share of this necessary bridge. The presidential permit was issued in April but without the money to build the U.S. customs plaza. When will we see the money?

All these issues require careful handling.

On Iran, reaction from the Sunni Arab nations and U.S. domestic politics has yet to play out. We can keep faith with Israel but be constructive. Re-opening our Embassy in Teheran would be a start to help assist in on-site verification.

On the Keystone XL pipeline, keep our sangfroid. The oil is flowing by rail. We will open new markets overseas through east-west pipelines.

The issue is now as much, if not more, a debate within the U.S. rather than a Canada-U.S. dispute. New EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy recently said of Keystone, “If there’s oil there, someone will find it and use it.”

We have a lot of allies – in industry, labour, and governors and legislators in the states through which the pipeline passes. With the House of Representatives onside, gaining the support of Senate Democrats is key.

On COOL, we have allies among producers. We need to convince consumers. Efforts by a team of federal and provincial legislators, working with allies in Congress, may obtain redress in the U.S. Farm Bill – but this would be a stretch. More likely, we will have to work the WTO process.

Meanwhile, with new access in Europe (through CETA) and opportunities in Asia, we should seek foreign investment (like China’s Shuanghui) to process in Canada.

On the bridge, the funding is the equivalent of the value of a couple of days commercial traffic through the Windsor-Detroit gateway. Keep working on Congress with our ally, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. Meantime, look at border management using the NORAD model. Why not a joint, binational customs plaza?

These trade disputes are frustrating but we are in it for the long haul. Build on the support we already have in the US.

In the American system, as long as there is a countervailing interest, there is friction and debate. We need to better understand their system, its rules and conventions.

Identify our U.S. allies and work with them. Avoid drama. And remember, it’s a permanent campaign.

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Time to send an Envoy to Tehran

Canada needs to be ‘on the ground’ in Iran: Time to reopen the embassy

COLIN ROBERTSON The Globe and Mail Friday, Aug. 09 2013

If we are serious about engaging Iran then we need to re-establish diplomatic relations.

September will mark a year since we closed our Embassy in Tehran and declared Iran’s diplomats personae non gratae because we feared for the safety of our diplomats and in protest for Iranian behavior.

Responding to last Sunday’s inauguration of Iranian President Hassan Rowhani, Foreign Minister John Baird proclaimed that ‘proof of strategic shift’ required Iran to change its nuclear policies, respect human rights and cease meddling in Syria.
These priorities are right and in the correct order. A nuclear Iran with ballistic missiles threatens stability in the Middle East and beyond, including cities on the eastern seaboard of North America.

Mr. Baird is to be encouraged in getting to know the regional players through his frequent travel. His use of social media, as demonstrated recently at the Munk School’s Global Dialogue with Iranian civil society, is innovative diplomacy.

Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom continues to churn out lively releases on human rights abuses, although their targets would likely pay more attention if they toned down the adjectives. A useful initiative for the Office would be to resurrect the ‘two-track’ research aimed at opening channels for dialogue with Iran conducted by the University of Ottawa’s Peter Jones.

Effective diplomacy is about ‘being there.’ This means having a presence on the ground so that you can look, listen and speak out when necessary.

A diplomatic presence does not imply regime endorsement but rather it is the conduit for official dialogue and discussion. Withdrawal of diplomatic personnel is an extreme step that should only be done if there is a personal threat to our diplomats or when a declaration of war is imminent. In between, there are gradations of presence, based on Winston Churchill’s conviction that ‘jaw-jaw’ is better than ‘war-war’.

The Middle East is complicated, confusing and frustrating but Canada has interests – commercial, political, and social. Through refugee re-settlement, immigration and study, there is a growing regional diaspora living in Canada. As we learned in the 2006 evacuation of Canadians from Lebanon, there is also a growing Canadian expatriate population whose interests oblige our protection.

Through the past half century of global primacy, the U.S. has developed a cadre of smart, experienced practitioners who devote their lives to finding solutions to difficult international problems. Their number includes Ambassador Tom Pickering who, with colleagues William Luers and Jim Walsh, has written ‘For a New Approach to Iran’. It builds on the ongoing, excellent work of the non-partisan Iran Project, which is designed to improve the relationship between the U.S. and Iranian governments and to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Pickering et al note that while Iran has the basic ability to make a bomb, its nuclear decision-making is guided by a cost-benefit approach. The election of Mr. Rowhani, whose platform included engaging the international community, offers opportunities to influence Tehran.

They argue that ‘coercive diplomacy’ – more sanctions and angry rhetoric – is counterproductive because it hardens resistance to change and reinforces the hardliners.

On military intervention, they recall McGeorge Bundy, President Lyndon Johnson’s national security advisor during the Vietnam War. In a retrospective interview, Mr. Bundy observed that what surprised him most was “the endurance of the enemy.” Too much emphasis had been placed, concluded Bundy, in “the power of coercion.”

Canadian practitioners should draw inspiration from Mr. Pickering and the work of the Iran Project.

Our knowledge of Iran now depends on the reportage of foreign correspondents, the intelligence shared by our friends and allies and what we glean through the Iranian community living in Canada.

This is not adequate if we are to seriously engage Iran and encourage their ‘strategic shift.’ We need our own eyes and ears on the ground. Our policy will oblige patience, persistence and a step-by-step process of proof and verification to build trust.

As a first step towards building confidence, Mr. Rowhani should guarantee the safety of our diplomats. Then it will be time to send a Canadian envoy back to Tehran.

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Ballistic Missile Defence under review

Excerpted from Michael Woods in the Ottawa Citizen April 22, 2013

U.S. reportedly asks Canada to join missile shield

OTTAWA — The United States has reportedly asked Canada to join an anti-ballistic missile shield, resurrecting a potentially thorny political issue in this country.

The request, as reported Sunday by CTV, comes amid heightened concerns over North Korea, which has been levelling bellicose rhetoric at the United States of late…

A spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay would neither confirm nor deny the report that the U.S. had approached Canada about participating in a missile-defence shield.

“Canada has declined to participate in ballistic missile defence in the past. We constantly review the security situation internationally,” spokesman Jay Paxton said in an email to Postmedia News on Sunday.

Appearing on CTV’s Question Period on Sunday, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews also declined to confirm or deny the report.

“I think we need to have a broader discussion about that, and I’m not prepared to venture an opinion at this time,” he said.

“What I can say is co-operation with our allies, especially in relation to a terrorism-related threat, is absolutely essential to keeping Canadians safe.”

In 2005, Paul Martin’s Liberal government declined to join the United States’ missile defence program, prompting ire from the Bush administration.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, said it’s now in Canada’s best interests to participate in an anti-ballistic missile shield with its southern counterpart, in light of changing global security considerations and improved technology.

“To me, it’s an insurance policy,” said Robertson, vice-president and senior research fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. “You hope you never have to use it, but you want to be sure that you’re protected.”

Robertson, who is also a distinguished senior fellow at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, said although North Korea’s actions have been garnering attention, the larger long-term threat could come from Iran, whose nuclear program is continuing despite strict international sanctions.

“The Americans are reasonably comfortable that they have the capacity to head off anything (from North Korea),” he said. “But if something came over the pole from Iran, that’s a different dimension, and that would also potentially be a more serious threat to Canada.”

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar, speaking on CTV, said Canada should “not act as if we’re going to have missiles sent at us tomorrow” and instead should press China, North Korea’s foremost ally, to pressure the isolated dictatorship into changing course.

“In 2005, it was not just Paul Martin that said no. Canadians overwhelmingly said no to this approach,” he said.

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