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Canada Slams U.S. Decision to Quit Iran Nuclear Accord

By Suresh Jaura

Photo: President Donald Trump meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House in February 2017. Credit: Office of the President of the United States.

TORONTO (IDN) – In 2012, Canada abandoned diplomatic ties with Iran and closed its embassy in Tehran. Former Canadian minister of foreign affairs, John Baird, cited Iran’s support for the Assad regime during the Syrian Civil War and non-compliance with United Nations resolutions on its nuclear program, recalls Katie Dangerfield writing in Global News.

When the Iran nuclear deal was created in July 2015, former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was skeptical of the agreement between Iran and the P5+1 nations (US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany). However, after Prime Minister Trudeau was elected in October 2015, he promised to restore ties between Iran and Canada, Dangerfield adds.

Subsequently, in 2016, the federal government lifted sanctions on Iran in accordance with the agreement’s terms. It allowed Canadian companies to do business with Iran, but still had restrictions on exports relating to nuclear goods and technology that could help Tehran develop ballistic missiles.

Against this backdrop, IDN has compiled Canada's reactions – as reflected in the media – to President Donald Trump's decision to quit the Iran nuclear deal on May 8.

According to the Canadian Press, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has delivered a "thinly veiled rebuke" to the Trump administration and Israel over their opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. However, Campbell Clark in his opinion piece for the Globe and Mail is of the view that Trudeau’s reaction was "muted".

The Canadian Press quotes Trudeau saying that he regrets President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 agreement that was negotiated by the world’s major powers. “We will respect the capacity of individual countries to make their decisions about foreign policy,” Trudeau said on May 9. “But for Canada’s purpose, we make our decisions around foreign policy here in Ottawa, not in Washington, not elsewhere,” he added.

Trudeau said the Iran nuclear deal wasn’t perfect, but it helped prevent that country from developing a nuclear weapon. Trudeau also stressed that Canada is firmly aligned with most countries, including other NATO allies in supporting the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, notes the Canadian Press.

“We know that standing firmly in support of the JPCOA with our NATO allies and others is extremely important.” The prime minister said he expects the Iran decision to be a topic of discussion when he hosts Trump and their G7 counterparts in Quebec at their annual summit on June 8-9.

The Globe and Mail's Clark writes: "U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from a nuclear deal with Iran drove a wedge between Canada’s major allies, but Justin Trudeau’s reaction was muted. This Prime Minister, it is fair to say, wasn’t looking to get mixed up in an international argument over the Middle East."

Clark notes that Trudeau’s Liberals have always argued the Iran deal is good for the world, but taking a pointed stand on it now means being at odds with Trump just when NAFTA talks might be reaching a critical juncture. That's why The PM used a low-key tone, avers Clark.

“I hope the [agreement] stays in place,” Trudeau told reporters before Trump made his announcement, recalls Clark. "Afterward, he had nothing to add. European leaders were vowing to work to keep the Iran deal alive without the United States and, hours later, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland issued a muted statement 'reaffirming' support for the agreement, with no mention of what comes next."

Clark adds: Make no mistake, it’s a reasonable calculation. Canada didn’t have a big role to play anyway. Its relationship with Iran is basically frozen. Bigger allies who are actually parties to the Iran deal – Britain, France and Germany – had desperately lobbied Trump, to no avail.

"And for Mr. Trudeau, there wasn’t much to gain politically from making a big noise about Iran. But that doesn’t mean the fallout won’t trouble him. It might bring a new psychodrama about whether the United States will attack Iran. And Canada’s biggest allies, the ones it counts on in international security matters, are divided," explains Clark in an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail.

The broader significance of what happened on May 8 will be worrying for Trudeau. "Mr. Trump, ostensibly the leader of the free world, split from the team. In major global security issues, Canada’s influence comes from working with the United States and big European allies. It appears they don’t work well together. And Mr. Trudeau is supposed to set a common agenda for this divided bunch next month, at the Group of Seven summit."

Withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal carries at least four major consequences, says Doug Saunders in an opinion piece for the Globe and Mail:

Iranian economy being in shambles will become more unstable and dangerous. "The hard-liners now have a far greater claim to legitimacy, and Tehran now has every reason to consider pursuing a nuclear-weapons program," says Saunders, adding what Barbara Slavin, an Iran analyst at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, has said: “Tehran may not react immediately, but the government of President Rouhani would be under intense domestic pressure to resume aspects of the nuclear program restricted by the JCPOA. Those that fear that the agreement would allow Iran to get close to a nuclear-weapons threshold in a decade or so would have to confront that possibility much sooner.”

After May 8, no nuclear weapons-seeking country has any reason to sign such an agreement. Saunders warns: "North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un will pay particular attention to Iran’s ordeal: From Pyongyang’s perspective, Tehran abased itself, swallowed a key source of national pride and bent over backwards for the Americans, only to have the United States’ side of the deal withdrawn. It is hard to see how any lasting North Korean disarmament deal could work now."

The U.S. "effectively imposed sanctions on Europe" on May 8. While European leaders said that they would attempt to salvage the deal, the presence of U.S. sanctions on Iran – and promises to isolate companies that trade with Iran – means that European businesses, and entire economies, will suffer. "Significantly, the withdrawal threatens to return much of the continent back into near-monopoly dependence upon Russia for heating fuel," notes Saunders.

Trump's decision is also a major win for Israel and Saudi Arabia, whose dictatorship is now fully ascendant for the first time since before the George W. Bush presidency. "Iran’s hard-liners have nothing restraining them from trying to seize control of Iraq, intensify the Syrian conflict, wreak worse havoc on Yemen and fight a more or less direct conflict with Israel in Syria," writes Saunders, and adds: Any last vestige of control and stability in the region had held on by a slender thread. That thread, until May 8, was known as the Iran deal.

Writing in the Globe and Mail, Simon Palamar, a research fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, says: While the JCPOA is not dead yet, it is in serious trouble. Whether the agreement lives or dies, Tuesday’s decision will have consequences not just for Iran and the Middle East, but will affect the strategic relationship between the United States and the European Union as well.

It could also have an unwelcome effect on Washington’s efforts to negotiate a cap or end to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, warns Palamar. "Will the North Koreans believe American promises? That’s the question. If they receive incremental sanctions relief from the U.S. in return for taking steps to limit their nuclear activities, will they assume that their good behaviour will keep the process going?

"Or will they conclude that they should be prepared to obfuscate the truth and cheat on any arrangement, since the U.S. will retroactively change the terms of engagement on a moment’s notice?"

Striking a different note Toronto Sun in an editorial on May 8 declared: "President Donald Trump made the correct decision on May 8 in withdrawing U.S. participation from the Iran nuclear deal. That one-sided agreement was crafted by his predecessor, Barack Obama, along with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

"Obama, the master of appeasement in U.S. foreign relations, called Trump’s decision 'misguided' and a 'serious mistake.' That’s rich coming from the former president who infamously drew a 'red line' against the use of chemical weapons by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and then allowed him to cross it. We know how that turned out. The Iran nuclear deal, another example of Obama’s handiwork, was dangerously advantageous to Iran, freeing it from economic sanctions in return for almost nothing."

The Toronto Sun editorial also refers to Trump making good on his "promise to scrap U.S. participation in the Paris climate accord, another terrible deal for the U.S. agreed to by Obama, and to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in recognition of Israel’s right to name its own capital."

The Editorial continues: Trump’s tough talk is getting results, most notably in peace talks between South and North Korea and his upcoming meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.

"South Korean President Moon Jae-in has suggested Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in getting the two sides talking face-to-face. Trump certainly deserves it more than Obama, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize before he’d done anything as president and then made blunder after blunder in foreign relations," the Editorial concludes. [IDN-InDepthNews – 10 May 2018]

Photo: President Donald Trump meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House in February 2017. Credit: Office of the President of the United States.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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