December 23, 2014 | The Canadian Jewish News

Why the World Should Follow Canada’s Lead on Iran

Over a year ago, U.S. Department of State spokesperson Jen Psaki insisted that, “If Iranians don’t get to a ‘yes’ at the end of six months, we can put in place more sanctions.”  Speaking about the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) negotiations, she was offering assurance that Barack Obama’s administration was serious about dismantling Iran’s nuclear infrastructure through tough diplomacy.

Another deadline has passed, no agreement has been reached, and negotiations have been extended yet again because Iran refuses to make the necessary concessions. Nonetheless, additional sanctions have not been imposed. On the contrary, sanctions worth billions of dollars have been lifted even though Iran continues to stonewall nuclear inspectors and has reportedly intensified efforts to obtain components for a heavy water reactor, which could be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

The Iranians have not gotten to a “yes” because they don’t need to. Time is on their side. Their economy is improving due to sanctions relief, and their centrifuges keep spinning. Unwilling to risk the collapse of a potential deal, the West has not only indulged Iran’s nuclear obfuscations but has also turned a blind eye to Tehran’s oppression of domestic dissidents and its support for Bashar al-Assad’s brutal rule. Even Iran’s ballistic missile program is no longer a subject of discussion. And for as long as negotiations are ongoing, Israel is hard-pressed to attempt a military strike on Iran’s nuclear sites.

Meanwhile, the White House appears desperate for a deal, and has proven disturbingly adept at accommodating Iranian red lines while allowing their own to be eroded. The most egregious example may be the interim agreement’s recognition of Iran’s right to enrichment – the core of any nuclear weapons program – thus contradicting no fewer than six UN Security Council resolutions.

When it comes to responding to Iranian misconduct, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird stand in favourable contrast to their American counterparts. Over the last two years, the Canadian government expelled Iran’s diplomats from Ottawa amidst evidence of their intimidation of Iranian-Canadians.  It designated Iran as a state sponsor of terror and therefore vulnerable to being sued in Canadian courts by victims of terrorism. Iran’s Quds Force was listed as a terrorist entity. When the P5+1 negotiations were extended again last month, Minister Baird stated: “Iran’s dithering is either a cynical ploy for time or an inability to clearly repudiate military nuclear ambitions. The regime must take immediate actions to resolve the concerns of the international community. …Until Canada is satisfied, our sanctions regime will remain in full force.”

To be fair, Canada and the U.S. do not occupy the same role on the world stage. If overt military conflict with Iran broke out, the brunt of any Western response would be borne by the U.S. This is a scenario Obama understandably seeks to avoid.

Still, Canada’s principled stand reflects sound policy worthy of emulation. Sanctions should indeed not be lifted until Iran’s nuclear program has been dismantled or a trustworthy regime has taken over. Obama’s strategy of removing sanctions to entice Tehran to make concessions has been predictably ineffective – Iran arrived at the negotiating table precisely because sanctions were hurting its economy.

Ottawa could also consider further measures. Canada’s current sanctions against Iran focus exclusively on Tehran’s illicit nuclear conduct. Perhaps the government should legislate that these sanctions cannot be repealed until Iran also ceases its terrorist sponsorship and demonstrates significant progress in respecting the human rights of all its residents.

Iranian Christians are bracing themselves for the arrests and violence that characterize the regime’s seasonal greetings to its Christian minority. This may be an appropriate time for Canada and like-minded countries to signal to Iran that the behaviours that made its nuclear belligerence a concern in the first place will be met with greater scrutiny in the new year.

Sheryl Saperia is Director of Policy for Canada at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.