By Iran Review
By Mohammad Ibrahim Taraghinejad
Following the victory of the Liberal Party of Canada in the country’s parliamentary elections and inauguration of the new Canadian government led by Justin Trudeau, the question that has preoccupied many people is “will Iran and Canada move in the direction of détente in bilateral relations?” Since a long time ago, the young Canadian prime minister was among critics of the country’s previous conservative government’s policies, including its hostile policies toward Iran, and had promised that in case of winning elections, Tehran and Ottawa would open a new chapter in their relations. Now hopes are high about reopening of the two countries’ embassies and many people expect national flags of Iran and Canada to be hoisted in Ottawa and Tehran, respectively, following reopening of Iran’s and the UK’s embassies on each other’s soils. A few days ago, the Canadian government removed part of the country’s unilateral sanctions against Iran and this measure can be a good sign of that country’s willingness to mend fences with Tehran. The future outlook of Iran’s relations with Canada has been discussed in an interview with Bahram Ghasemi, Iran’s former ambassador to Canada as well as the Islamic Republic’s former ambassador to Italy, Spain and Ireland. The full text of the interview follows.
Q: Will removal of part of anti-Iran sanctions by the new Canadian government be considered as a first step toward normalization of ties between Tehran and Ottawa?
A: It is certainly so and this can be considered as the first practical step to be taken by the new Canadian government to reduce tensions and normalize the two countries’ relations. Before the election of the liberal government of Justin Trudeau, the country’s former government took wrong steps toward Iran and following suit with certain countries, imposed unilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic, part of which was removed recently and another part is still in place. Of course, during his election campaigning, Justin Trudeau had promised that in case of winning elections and forming a government, he would revise Canada’s policy toward Iran and the two countries would move toward improvement in relations. He won elections and since his government has been established up to the present time, positive remarks have been made by new Canadian statesmen. It seems that Justin Trudeau is well aware of the untoward consequences of the former Canadian government’s policies toward Iran and is willing to make up for the past government’s mistakes. Lifting part of sanctions can be good news and a good sign that would prepare the ground for the establishment of balanced relations between Iran and Canada. However, it was the Canadian government, which decided to cut its relations with Iran and any measure to restart normalization of relations between Tehran and Ottawa must be taken by the Canadian government and it is for them to make up for their past mistakes.
Q: Justin Trudeau has announced that Canada will not act hastily for the removal of anti-Iran sanctions and wants to act responsibly in this regard. Isn’t this remark at odds with Canada’s measure to remove part of sanctions against Iran? What was the reason behind the announcement?
A: Perhaps bringing up this issue by Justin Trudeau was because he, as the new head of the Canadian state, has intended to test the opposite side, namely Iran, and see if their measure for removing part (and not all) of anti-Iran sanctions could provide conditions for normalization of relations. In other words, the remarks by the Canadian prime minister is about the necessity of taking step by step measures to normalize the two countries’ relations. However, unilateral sanctions imposed by this country against Iran are so negative and have caused so much loss for Canada that there is no need to such stories and it would be to Ottawa’s benefit to remove all of its unilateral sanctions and get out of the current isolation it is experiencing. At any rate, they must not wait for our reaction and must not expect Iran to take the first step for reopening of the embassies and normalization of relations, because it was them who first cut their relations with Tehran.
Q: To what extent, Canada’s willingness to reestablish relations with Iran can be affected by trade agreements that Iran has signed with European countries as well as the implementation of Iran’s nuclear deal with the P5+1 group, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and subsequent removal of Western sanctions against Iran?
A: Undoubtedly, any government’s measures and decisions are influenced by global issues and nobody can claim that those agreements between Iran and European countries as well as removal of sanctions have had no effect in this regard. However, it must be noted that Iran never expected the Canadian government to impose unilateral sanctions and restrictive measures against Tehran and then cut relations with Iran despite all its claims and in spite of the presence of many Iranians that live in that country. At present, global conditions have made Canada review its policies toward Iran. At present, many countries talk about the unique regional role of Iran and consider Iran as a powerful country in the Middle East. JCPOA has entered into force and sanctions against Iran are being removed. These issues will cause the Canadian government not to be able to continue with its past behavior toward Iran. As I said before, conditions have changed and there is no doubt that continuation of past behavior will raise questions in Canada’s public opinion and among the country’s elites, who will then ask their government why it is still following suit with past approaches now that new conditions have come about? I think that the new Canadian government has to somehow adjust and modify its policies toward the great nation of Iran.
Q: What grounds are there for cooperation between Iran and Canada?
A: Economic relations as well as trade exchanges between Iran and Canada have a long historical background. The two sides are aware of each other’s capabilities and capacities for cooperation. As a result, Tehran and Ottawa can work with each other with regard to industrial, agricultural, environmental, cultural, scientific, education, and academic affairs. At present, a great number of Iranian students and university professors are living in Canada. However, before any new relations are established with regard to economic and trade cooperation, it is necessary for bilateral diplomatic ties to get back to normal. In other words, as long as the current conditions exist and relations between Iran and Canada have not been normalized, cooperation between the two countries will not be imaginable. And relations cannot be normalized by just talking about them. The first step would be confidence building, doing away with misunderstandings and making up for past mistakes, so that, the way would be paved for dialogue between the two countries. When grounds for dialogue are provided and bilateral relations are reestablished, Tehran and Ottawa would be able to start a new round of cooperation in various fields. Iran and Canada are currently in the period just before restarting normal relations. Therefore, preliminary steps toward normalization of relations must be taken first in order for the two countries to reach the zero point.
Q: How important is Canada in Iran’s foreign policy?
A: Iran’s importance for Canada is much more than Canada’s importance for Iran. Canada is a very big and powerful country. They are member of the group of seven industrial nations and are considered a powerful and industrial economy. However, Iran’s effective role and powerful position in the Middle East causes them to need us more than we need them. Nonetheless, the dominant doctrine in Iran’s foreign policy is based on normalization of relations and constructive interaction with world countries as well as establishment of balanced relations based on mutual respect and interests with all countries in the world, except for the illegitimate regime of Israel.
Q: You referred to Iran’s role and position in the region. What is Canadians’ attitude toward Iran’s regional role in the Middle East?
A: During past years, the Canadian government did not take an accurate and expert approach to issues in the Middle East and their policy was based on unilateral support for Israel. I think that they were not aware of the realities in the Middle East and were influenced by others, and this type of wrong approach pushed Canada toward making unilateral decisions. They need dialogue in order to have a correct understanding and come to grips with realities in the region, so that, they would be able to discern the future course of developments in the Middle East. However, it is still too early to pass any judgment on the new Canadian government and its approach, and we must wait to see major changes in their foreign policy.
Q: Human rights has been a bone of contention between Iran and Canada during past years. to what extent can this issue affect future course of bilateral relations between Tehran and Ottawa?
A: I do not want to discuss differences between Iran and Canada over the issue of human rights, because this is a long story and cannot be summarized in a few sentences. Historical realities are clear and they cannot be changed. They have leveled accusations against Iran part of which is due to lack of correct understanding of the region and its conditions, part of it is due to being influenced by certain interest groups, and yet another part is due to the influence of illegitimate regimes. In a positive and optimistic analysis, this difference is due to lack of correct understanding of realities. Iran also talks about human rights violations in Canada, which are mostly related to violation of the basic rights of indigenous people in that country. Human rights discussions have now turned into political discussions and instruments of pressure. I think that the Canadian government must revise its policies in this regard. They cannot be vanguards in adoption of anti-Iran resolutions at the United Nations and, at the same time, want to normalize their relations with Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran expects a revision in policies based on national interests in this regard. This revision is not just about Iran, but it includes many other Islamic countries, because continuation of the existing conditions will lead to more isolation of Canada, not only by Iran, but by a large number of Islamic countries.
Q: At present, Tehran and London are going through the process of normalization of their relations and during this period there has not been serious tensions in relations between Iran and the United States. To what extent such issues could have influenced the Canadian government’s willingness to reduce tensions with Iran?
A: A decision to issue visas and provide consular services by Iranian and British embassies is rather new, but slogans about revising relations between Tehran and Ottawa by Justin Trudeau go back to a few months ago. Therefore, I don’t think that the willingness of the Canadian government to normalize the two countries’ relations and reduce tensions could have been very much affected by that development. On the other hand, it would not seem becoming of the Canadian government to act like this, because this country has a claim to independence and an independent country never ties its national interests to other countries’ problems. As I said before, the Canadian government is aware of the improvement in international standing and promotion in regional role of Iran. They have reached the conclusion that continuation of past policies is not possible and it is necessary for them to revise their policies toward Iran and mend fences with Tehran. In other words, the government of Canada is forced to normalize relations with Iran, because regional conditions and realities have imposed this on the government in that country. The course taken by the former Canadian government, that is, the conservative government of Stephen Harper, was a course which crashed with the course taken by its European allies. Canada, however, cannot continue on the same course and cannot swim against the tide. They have seen how their European allies are now in a race to reestablish relations and improve ties with Iran. They have seen numerous visits to Iran by heads of European states as well as the recent trip to Europe by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani. Therefore, they have to take logical steps toward improvement of relations with Iran and make up for their past mistakes. Now, we must wait and see how serious Canadians are in this regard.
Source: Etemad Newspaper
Translated By: Iran Review.Org