We are ready to re-engage with Iran, Canadian new FM says

Canadian new Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion says his country will be more constructive in its diplomatic dealings with Iran.

In an interview with the Ottawacitizen on Wednesday, Dion said the new Liberal government would re-engage with Iran.

A key part of the previous Canadian Conservative government’s approach to international affairs was to take a hard stand against perceived foes. That included severing diplomatic relations with Iran in September 2012.

One of new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first promises after last month’s election was that Canada would have a more “compassionate and constructive voice in the world” under the Liberals after a decade of Conservative rule. As Trudeau’s new foreign affairs minister, it will be up to Dion to implement that vision.

Trudeau first promised in June that a Liberal government would re-engage with Iran.

“I would hope that Canada would be able to reopen its mission, as I understand it, there were security concerns that led to the closing of the mission, but I’m fairly certain that there are ways to re-engage” Trudeau told a CBC interviewer in June, just as the United States and other world powers were concluding a nuclear deal with Iran that would reduce economic sanctions and open the country to renewed trade.

Dion said that remains the plan. “Not because we agree with this regime,” he added. “We need to do it with eyes wide open. But it’s the approach of the other G7 countries.”

“If you don’t speak to Tehran, in which way are you helpful to the people of Iran?” he added. “How are you helping the other countries in the region when Iran is more and more involved in the fighting in Syria? With what is happening in Iraq? In what way does it help Israel that Canada cannot speak to Iran at all?”

Dion said cabinet has not discussed exactly how re-engagement will occur, including what to do about the fact the previous government listed Iran as a state sponsor of terror. And he said the government will approach Iran “with a lot of cautiousness.”

“But the bottom line is we need to engage much more than before, even with the regimes that we have difficulty with,” he said.

Dion said the new Liberal government also won’t shy away from criticizing either Israel or the Palestinians when it comes to actions that threaten Middle East peace. And he wouldn’t rule out Canada running for a seat at the United Nations Security Council.

The foreign minister also indicated a new approach to Russia is coming. Dion said Trudeau is “certainly not happy” with Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and the new government will reiterate that point with Moscow. But he added: “We also need to think about our national interests because Russia is our neighbor in the Arctic.”

Dion described Israel as a “friend” and “ally,” but said the foundation of Canada’s engagement in the Middle East will be finding an enduring peace “because Israel will benefit from peace.” That includes speaking against the construction of Israeli communities, or settlements, on land the Palestinians claim as their own.

“The official policy of Canada is that the settlements are not helpful for peace, and I have no problem repeating that,” Dion said. “This is a policy that is shared by all G7 countries and Canada has no difficulty to say, under Mr. Trudeau at least, that it is not helpful for peace and we would like this policy to be stopped.”

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