Baird warns of Iranian charm offensive in UN General Assembly speech

OTTAWA – Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird warned the United Nations General Assembly on Monday to avoid being taken in by any Iranian charm offensives.

Baird evoked the memory of the failed appeasement of Nazi Germany in the year before the Second World War as he urged the gathered members in the UN chamber to tread carefully when taking Iran at its word.

He also spoke of the need to end the human rights violations against girls and women, describing forced marriage as rape, and calling several times for the “human family” to unite to end violence against women.

On Iran, Baird was addressing an apparent thaw in the three decades of strained relations between the United States and Iran after President Barack Obama spoke by phone with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani last week.

It was the first conversation between the leaders of the two countries since the 1979 siege of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

“Some observers see encouraging signs, but sound bites do not remove threats to global security,” Baird said.

“Kind words, a smile and a charm offensive are not a substitute for real action.”

Baird noted that the P5+1 — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany — has met five times with Iran in the past two years to find an end to its nuclear standoff with the West.

“While everyone says the meetings have been ‘productive,’ the fact remains we haven’t seen any change in Iran’s actions,” Baird said.

Canada will welcome reform, but will judge the Iranian regime by whether it delivers results and elevates the standard of living of its people, he added. In the meantime, he said, tough sanctions must be maintained.

“Next year, nothing would make Canada more pleased than to see a change in Iran’s nuclear ambitions. A change to its terrible human rights record. And an end to Iran’s material support for terrorism, including Hezbollah.”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Ottawa lauded Baird’s strong statements on Iran, saying its leaders have a “lengthy track record of denial, delay, and deception” on the nuclear issue.

“For years, Hassan Rouhani has been at the centre of these efforts and has openly boasted of using talks as a veil to accelerate its nuclear capabilities,” Shimon Koffler Fogel, the head of the centre, said in a statement.

“While it is possible that the Iranian leader’s words represent a preliminary signal of a change in Iran’s policy, the shifting rhetoric may prove only a continuation of its desire to evade sanctions.”

Canada severed diplomatic relations with Iran one year ago, shuttering its embassy in Tehran and expelling the regime’s diplomats from Canada.

Baird also touted his government’s creation of an Office of Religious Freedom, and said it is necessary because religious persecution continues to flourish.

He cited numerous examples of attacks on Muslim, Buddhist and Christian places of worship in numerous countries, including Pakistan, Tanzania, Egypt and Sri Lanka.

Baird elaborated, at times passionately, on one of his signature initiatives: the plight of young girls and women forced into marriage.

Last week, Baird co-hosted a panel on the issue during the UN meetings in New York.

He told the panel the practice is “an appalling violation of human rights” and said Canada is committed to putting a stop to it.

“Since I began these remarks, 100 children have been forced into marriage; 1,100 per hour; more than 26,000 per day,” Baird told the General Assembly.

“Forced marriage is rape; it is violence against women. Early forced marriage is child rape, violence against young girls. The practice is abhorrent, indefensible and Canada condemns it.”

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