OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he will encourage diplomatic efforts to settle the Iranian nuclear question, but he warns that Iran must be judged by deeds, not words.
U.S. President Barack Obama is reaching out to the new Iranian president Hasan Rouhani as a potential force for positive developments in the troubled relationship between Iran and the West.
Rouhani seems much more conciliatory in his comments about the situation.
The two sides have been bitterly divided over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The West suspects Iran of working on a bomb. Iran counters that it merely wants to develop a peaceful nuclear power program.
Harper, for one, was not enthusiastic about the prospects of dealing with Iran.
“One will see,” he said during a news conference Tuesday with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“I certainly would not fault President Obama and our allies from trying, but my sincere advice would be when it comes to the government of Iran we should carefully monitor deeds far more than words.”
Paul Dewar, the NDP foreign affairs critic, said Harper is taking the wrong tack when it comes to Iran and should have responded to Iran’s moderate comments.
“As long as they are continuing to show that they are willing to change the way in which they have been behaving, I think it’s important that we all do our fair share,” Dewar said.
Harper’s warning about deeds over words isn’t helpful, he added.
“It’s incumbent on Canada to do its part and we are not,” Dewar said. “So when the prime minister says, essentially, ‘Well, we’ll see what happens,’ I don’t think that’s responsible foreign policy.”
Harper also said he has no immediate plans to re-open the Canadian embassy in Tehran.
Canada broke off diplomatic relations with Iran a year ago, pulling its diplomats home and ordering Iran’s embassy staff out.
“We ended that diplomatic presence because of our increased uncertainly about the safety of our personnel in Iran and we will not return until we think those kinds of questions can be adequately addressed,” Harper said.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, speaking in Montreal, saw some potential in thawing the Iranian situation.
“Perhaps a new player behind the Iran desk can achieve some concrete results and we’re incredibly supportive of that process,” he said, noting that Rouhani knows the nuclear file.
But Baird said there’s more to it than just the nuclear question.
“We also want to see from Iran meaningful progress on human rights,” he said. “It has an abysmal human rights record that matters to Canadians.
“We also want to see it take steps back from supporting terrorism, whether that’s Hezbollah, supporting interference in just about every single one of its neighbours.”
Baird also said Canada is prepared to help in the fight terrorism in Africa, especially in light of the grisly shopping mall attack in Nairobi.
“We have a counter-terrorism capacity building program and we’re certainly prepared to do everything we can in that part of Africa to combat al-Shabab.”
Counter-terrorism is vital, and while Canada has done a lot in east Africa, it’s willing to do more, he said.
“The fight against global terrorism is the great struggle of our generation and it’s not going to be won or lost in a single place, a single battle. But obviously the provocative actions taken by al-Shabab cause us great concern.”