Tuesday, 15 October, 2019

Canada must join the chorus of support for the Iran nuclear deal

By Sam Khanlari, CBCnews

he election of Donald Trump has jeopardized the historic 2015 nuclear agreement between several world powers and Iran. If the deal is indeed undone, as the president-elect has promised, the reverberating effects on global diplomacy would be disastrous. Canada’s role in this arena might come off as inconsequential, but Ottawa should nevertheless join governments around the world in recognizing the deal’s success, and help to ensure its continued implementation.

Under the leadership of former prime minister Stephen Harper, Canada’s government abandoned the diplomatic channel with Iran, and Ottawa was notably skeptical of the negotiations that resulted in the agreement between Iran and the P5+1 nations. Even after the UN unanimously endorsed the accord — which curbs Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief — the Harper government maintained its ambivalence.

Restoring diplomatic links

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s party has praised the diplomatic efforts to resolve the nuclear issue, and his government has moved to lift sanctions on Iran in accordance with the agreement’s terms. Efforts to restore diplomatic links between Ottawa and Tehran are ongoing, evidenced by a meeting between former foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion and Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, at the UN General Assembly in New York last fall.

Trump, on the other hand, has routinely criticized President Barack Obama’s negotiations with Tehran, and promised in early 2016 to prioritize the agreement’s dismantlement. He reiterated his position on Twitter in December, tweeting: “[Israel] used to have a great friend in the U.S., but not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this,” in reference to a UN Security Council resolution critical of Israel.

The incoming president also risks isolating the United States from its negotiating partners if he sides with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes the deal, on the nuclear file. As the European Union’s foreign policy chief and lead negotiator on the nuclear issue Federica Mogherini reminded the president-elect following his election: “The nuclear deal is not a bilateral agreement between the United States and Iran. It’s a multilateral agreement that we (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States) have negotiated” with Tehran.

In Brussels, a council of EU foreign ministers issued a statement reiterating their support for the accord, emphasizing the European Union’s commitment to “support the full and effective implementation” of the agreement. Both British and German foreign ministries have also said they hope to convince a Trump administration on the merits of the deal.

Any proposal to undo the accord would also face backlash from Moscow and Beijing, whose leaders played instrumental roles in negotiating the agreement. In December, Russia’s foreign ministry said the termination of the nuclear agreement would be an “unforgivable” act. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi added that the status of the nuclear agreement “should not be affected by any changes in the domestic situations of the countries concerned.”

Resistance to scrapping the deal is also evident in Washington, where outgoing CIA director John Brennan recently warned that tearing up the agreement would be “the height of folly.” Unraveling the accord would also threaten commercial interests such as the recent $16.6 billion (USD) deal between American manufacturing giant Boeing and Iran’s national airline, Iran Air — an agreement that Boeing says will support 100,000 American jobs.

While the president-elect’s transition team has dialled back calls for doing away with the agreement entirely, a cloud hangs over America’s commitment to carrying out its end of the bargain. Short of violating the terms of the deal, the incoming administration might opt to provide minimal consult to global businesses pursuing trade with Iran, and also adopt a more critical approach to the agreement’s implementation process. In partnership with a willing Congress, we might see Washington apply additional pressure on Tehran (by, for example, beefing up America’s presence in the Persian Gulf, proposing additional sanctions for missile development or seeking to renegotiate certain terms) to hinder the country’s reintegration into the global financial system and perilously undermine the spirit of the accord.

Protecting Canadian interests

There’s good reason for Canada to play a role in trying to keep the Iran nuclear deal intact, beyond its role in strengthening the global nuclear non-proliferation regime. Trump’s repeated attacks on the agreement illustrate a general disdain for consensus building and the diplomatic process — one that threatens to upend other vital multilateral agreements valued by Canadians, including the Paris climate accord and trade deals like NAFTA. If Trump’s destructive ambitions are left unchecked, his administration may be empowered to overturn other pacts more closely linked to Canadian interests.

Ottawa can take action now. The federal government should join the chorus of international support for the nuclear accord with Iran, and encourage all parties to build on its successes.

Sam Khanlari is a Toronto-based writer and an editor with Muftah.org, a digital magazine. His work has been featured in the Toronto Star, VICE, and The Islamic Monthly.

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