Who's rogue now? Canada's response to the Iran nuclear deal

Photo: flickr/Andrew Rusk

It was good enough for Obama. It was good enough for Russia, China, the U.K. and Germany. It was good enough for the European Union. In the end, it was even good enough for France. But the nuclear agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 was not good enough for Canada.

While the agreement was greeted with a sense of relief, optimism and excitement by most of Canada’s allies, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird said that Canada is "deeply skeptical of Iran and its ability to honour its obligations." As a result, as the rest of the world thaws a small percentage of frozen Iranian assets and temporarily relieves a small amount of sanctions, Baird said that "Canadian sanctions will remain tough and will remain in full force" -- a foreign policy that isolates it from the rest of the world.

Baird added that Canada "will evaluate the deal reached not just on the merits of its words but more importantly, on its verifiable implementation."

But that is built in to the deal’s words. Baird seems to be conjuring meaningless obstacles to Canada joining its allies.

The text of the deal specifies that "a Joint Commission of E3/EU+3 [a common name for the P5+1 in Europe] and Iran will be established to monitor the implementation of the near-term measures...with the IAEA responsible for verification of nuclear-related measures."

In other words, the deal does exactly what Baird says Canada needs to be done: it sets up a mechanism to verify implementation. As a statement from the White House explained, the deal offered "limited, temporary, targeted and reversible [sanctions] relief," but "warned that any sanctions relief will be revoked and new penalties enacted if Iran fails to meet its commitments."

Baird defended Canada’s refusal to join its allies by explaining that “We have a made-in-Canada foreign policy.” And, according to the CBC, he explained Canada’s distrust of Iran, in part, by saying that "because the previous Iranian leaders had made hostile comments toward Israel, 'we’re deeply skeptical of the deal and the work that’s brought us to this stage.'"

But, as Baird points out, that objection pertains to the previous Iranian government and not the current one. And it is not even true of the previous one.

As the Israelis have admitted, Ahmadinejad never threatened "to wipe Israel off the map." His statement was a reference, not to the state of Israel or its people, but the "occupying regime of Jerusalem," a line which refers to the regime which is occupying Palestine, but contains no threat to destroy Israel.

Baird’s continued explanation of Canada’s distrust of Iran seems to ignore history as much as it ignores the text of the agreement.

"We think past actions," Baird said, "best predict future actions." "Simply put Iran has not earned the right to have the benefit of the doubt." But if "past actions" are the best predictors of future actions, the Iranians might argue, holding on to history, that it is the West that "has not earned the right to have the benefit of the doubt." Modern history overflows with instances of the West not following through on promises made in negotiation with Iran.

When the first President Bush promised President Rafsanjani that, if Iran used its leverage to win the release of the American hostages in Lebanon, it would "be long remembered" and that "goodwill begets goodwill," Iran did what it was asked, but America did not do what it promised.

Instead, the Americans informed Rafsanjani that he should expect no American reciprocation. This past action suggests America "has not earned the right to have the benefit of the doubt."

In 2003, the West again demonstrated which party is not to be trusted in negotiations. The U.K., France and Germany convinced Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and implement the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran agreed to temporarily suspend all enrichment.

A second round of negotiations would work toward a final settlement that would allow Iran to enrich in return for guarantees that its nuclear program would remain a civilian program: much like the current agreement, but it was not Iran that was not to be trusted.

Now that Iran had suspended enrichment, the Europeans refused to negotiate. They changed the terms and insisted that the only acceptable deal was one in which Iran agreed to a total cessation of enrichment. Recognizing that they had been betrayed by the West, Ayatollah Khamenei terminated the talks. This past action also suggests that it is the West who "has not earned the right to have the benefit of the doubt."

In 2009, the U.S. proposed a nuclear swap in which Iran would send its 3.5 per cent enriched uranium out of the country where it would be enriched into fuel rods for the medical reactor and sent back to Iran. But, once again, the West was being disingenuous: it was a trick. The real American objective was to get all of the 3.5 per cent uranium out of Iran to buy the U.S. time.

The plan called for Iran to send away all its 3.5 per cent uranium immediately even though it would take a year, or even several years, to receive the 19.5 per cent uranium needed for its medical reactor. That would not only leave Iran without its 3.5 per cent uranium, but it would defy the point of the whole plan: allowing Iran to acquire medical isotopes for its medical facilities.

So Iran made a counterproposal that kept the spirit of the plan and circumnavigated the American treachery. They would send out their 3.5 per cent uranium in batches, and when the enriched uranium for medical isotopes was returned, they would send out the next batch. America ignored this Iranian counterproposal.

Contrary to Baird’s claim, then, history shows that if either party has a right to distrust the other based on past performance, it is Iran.

In addition to Canada’s skepticism about Iran, Baird offered a second reason for not joining its allies in the Iranian nuclear deal. The CBC reports that, "Baird said he would like to see Iran abandon its plutonium enrichment program altogether and to shut down all of its centrifuges."

But asking Iran to shut down all of its centrifuges is illegal: it is a violation of Iran’s sovereign right as a signatory to the NPT. Article IV of the NPT clearly states that "Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty."

As a signatory to the treaty, Iran unequivocally has the "inalienable right" to use "nuclear energy for peaceful purposes."

As for Iran’s "plutonium enrichment program," there isn’t one. The reactor in Arak produces plutonium as a byproduct. To separate that plutonium, so that it could be used for a weapon, Iran would need to build a whole new facility.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, points out what Baird surely knows: that Iran does not have such a reprocessing plant. Kimball says that demands about Arak are unnecessary obstacles to the agreement. He says that it will take a year to complete the plant and another year for the plant to produce plutonium, putting the potential for bomb material two years into the future.

And that time line is now extended, since in the agreement, which Baird rejects, Iran promises that for the six months of the agreement, "it will not commission the reactor or transfer fuel or heavy water to the reactor site and will not test additional fuel or produce more fuel for the reactor or install remaining components."

In addition, Kimball says that Arak will be under IAEA safeguards. Kimball concludes by saying that the Western "powers would be making a mistake if they hold up an interim deal that addresses more urgent proliferation risks over the final arrangements regarding Arak."

Baird’s next reason for not joining Canada’s allies in the Iranian nuclear deal is that "A nuclear Iran...would also seriously damage the integrity of decades of work for nuclear non-proliferation." But Iran is just about the only country currently at the negotiations table that is not in violation of the NPT.

Iran is being chastised for the illegal nuclear weapons it does not have by a horde of countries that are protecting the exclusive right to the illegal nuclear weapons they do have. All of them are in violation of the NPT because all of them promised in Article VI to undertake "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."

But worse than violating the NPT, the nuclear powers have exploded it. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commits countries with nuclear weapons "not to in any way assist, encourage or induce any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons." But the U.S. has explicitly aided India and Pakistan in their illegal acquisition of nuclear weapons. And they have implicitly aided others. France has explicitly aided the Israelis.

India is in defiance of Security Council Resolution 1172, which calls on it to eliminate the nuclear weapons it illegally acquired outside the framework of the NPT. But, ironically, given Baird’s objection to the Iran agreement, just three years ago, the Harper Conservative government signed the Canada-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement.

Canadian Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver boasted that "The agreement with India will permit Canadian companies to reach an important new market for Canadian uranium, nuclear technology, services and equipment."

Canada has not sanctioned Pakistan even though the world has known about its nuclear program since the late 1970s. And Canada has certainly not sanctioned Israel, with whom the Conservative government enjoys the most cooperative of relationships even though Israel possesses at least two hundred very sophisticated nuclear warheads, which it developed outside the NPT.

So Baird’s defense of Canada’s rejection of the agreement on the grounds that "a nuclear Iran ... would also seriously damage the integrity of decades of work for nuclear non-proliferation" is indefensible and not even consistent with Canada’s own policy toward India and others.

Baird’s comments can only be made by ignoring the text of the agreement and by ignoring history. Now that Iran is emerging from its Western-imposed isolation and is negotiating an agreement with the West, Canada’s position risks making it, and not Iran, look like the rogue state.

Ted Snider has his masters in philosophy and teaches high school English and politics in Toronto.


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