Tone down the rhetoric on Iran (THE GLOBE AND MAIL OP-ED) JOHN MUNDY 02/24/12)
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Prime Minister Stephen Harper is right to be deeply concerned about
Iran, but his recent statements go too far. He has asserted that
Iranís leaders would have ďno hesitationĒ about using nuclear
weapons. If this is your view, then negotiations donít make much
sense Ė better to invoke the 1930s and advocate confrontation.
Despite denials, the Prime Minister seems to be preparing Canadians
to support a military strike against Iranís nuclear program.
Is this where Canada should be positioned? Certainly, the Prime
Minister is working closely with our allies, but there is still quite
a difference between his statements and those of U.S. President
Barack Obama. Mr. Obama has taken no options off the table but is
working toward a negotiated solution; Mr. Harper seems to be tilting
in a different direction. This is the first time in decades that a
Canadian prime minister, Liberal or Conservative, appears to be
advocating approaches that reduce diplomatic opportunities for peace
during an international crisis.
One such opportunity, an initiative by Turkey and Brazil, almost
reached a breakthrough. In 2010, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
and then-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva flew to Tehran and
negotiated a deal to move a significant portion of Iranís enriched
uranium offshore for reprocessing. They had a prior understanding
with Washington about what might be acceptable and came very close to
delivering. During the few weeks that it took them to convince
Tehran, the situation in Washington changed and the political room
Mr. Obama had for deal-making shifted. The peace initiative failed,
but could still be resuscitated in modified form when Iran returns to
the negotiating table in Turkey next month. This is the type of
middle-power diplomacy that Canada has practised with skill and
success in the past; we should be there now.
There is another aspect to what Ottawa is advocating that should give
cause for concern. After an attack, Iranian leaders would almost
surely close down the human-rights movement as they rallied their
countryís population. And yet it is precisely this movement that
offers the most long-term hope for Iran to emerge from isolation and
rejoin the international community. Moreover, support for human
rights has been a fundamental principle of our policy toward Iran. We
have led successive UN votes condemning its human-rights record; we
draw attention to specific cases of abuse, particularly ones
involving our own dual citizens; and we provide refuge for Iranians
who want to leave. We should not abandon them.
Under present circumstances, there is virtually no chance that the
United Nations Security Council will support military action against
Iran, but yet this has not swayed advocates of a strike. Canada will
have a choice: We can remain faithful to the system of collective
security under the UN charter that we helped to create, or we can
support a pre-emptive war undertaken without full international
legitimacy. We chose the first option in 2003, despite considerable
risk to our relationship with the United States, when Washington
launched a pre-emptive war against Iraq. We should remain true to our
Finally, even advocates of a military strike admit that it would not
stop Iranís nuclear program. At best, it would delay it. Indeed, many
analysts believe it would make weaponization of Iranís nuclear
Here are four suggestions for the Canadian government:
-Tone down the rhetoric. In particular, make clear to the Iranian
people that we do not support demonizing their country Ė our concern
is with the policies of their leaders.
-Inform Israel that Canada wants a negotiated solution to the crisis
and will not support unilateral military action. Our support for
Israel should not be unconditional.
-Speak up for human rights in Iran.
-Encourage Israel to resume the peace process with the Palestinians
and re-engage with its neighbours, particularly our NATO ally,
Turkey. (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be in Ottawa
on March 2.)
Iranís leaders have done many abhorrent things, but they are neither
irrational nor suicidal. They are best understood as leaders of a
failed revolution who are now preoccupied with self-preservation.
Canada can play a bigger role in enhancing the cohesion and unity of
the international community at a time when itís essential for Iran to
engage in meaningful negotiations to resolve the crisis.
John Mundy is a former Canadian ambassador to Iran who was expelled
in 2007. Now retired, he is working on a book about his experience.
(© Copyright 2012 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. 02/24/12)
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