The Trudeau government appears to be backing away from its election commitment to re-establish relations with Iran after supporting a Conservative motion calling on it to cease diplomatic talks with the country and list the Islamic Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group.
Led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a majority of Liberal MPs voted in favour of a Tory motion Tuesday calling on the government to “abandon its current plan and immediately cease any and all negotiations or discussions” to restore diplomatic relations with Iran. Canada’s recent talks with Iran have focused on a difficult consular case involving a Canadian-Iranian widow, but the Liberals’ support for the Conservative motion indicates a shift in the government’s position on the Islamic Republic.
“After months of pursuing a wrong-headed policy of appeasement towards Iran, the Liberals finally agreed with the Conservative Party to have a more forceful response to the Iranian regime,” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said during Question Period Wednesday.
A senior government official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said the Liberals’ support for the motion was motivated by the case of Maryam Mombeini. The Iranian-Canadian dual citizen was barred from leaving Iran after her husband’s suspicious death inside Tehran’s notorious Evin prison earlier this year. Ms. Mombeini and her two adult sons decided to flee Iran in March because they were facing threats for rejecting Iranian authorities’ claim that her husband died by suicide. When Iranian officials barred her from leaving, she told her sons to leave without her.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office did not say whether the government would resume fuller diplomatic talks with Iran if and when Ms. Mombeini is allowed to leave Iran. Ms. Freeland called her Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, on May 22 to demand he help solve Ms. Mombeini’s case.
“Until Maryam Mombeini is allowed to return home, her freedom will be the only topic of discussion we have with the Iranian government,” said Adam Austen, Ms. Freeland’s spokesman.
The Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC) said it is unfortunate the government is buying into the “false notion” that consular cases would prevent diplomacy with Iran.
“Prime Minister Trudeau promised the Iranian-Canadian community that he would re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran and open the embassies between the two countries,” the ICC said in a statement. “We now see that the Liberal government’s promise to the Iranian-Canadian community is officially broken.”
The federal government had been engaging in talks with Iranian officials until Ms. Mombeini was blocked from leaving the country. Canada-Iran relations were severed in 2012 when the former Conservative government kicked Iranian diplomats out of Canada and closed the Canadian embassy in Tehran.
Conservatives initially welcomed the Liberals’ support for the motion, but started to doubt the government when it refused to commit to immediately listing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – a powerful branch of the country’s military – as a terrorist entity.
“I’m not sure how serious they are because their own spokespeople are now saying that they’re already walking it back,” Mr. Scheer said.
Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, said that while the government has “taken note” of the motion’s text, it cannot disclose what entities are being considered for listing under the Criminal Code’s terrorist listing regime.
Mr. Bardsley noted that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force – the branch that facilitates terrorist operations – is already listed as a terrorist group in Canada. He said Iran is also listed as a state sponsor of terror and senior IRGC officials are subject to sanctions.
Conservative Senator Leo Housakos notified the Senate of his intention to table an identical motion. The Red Chamber is scheduled to vote on it Thursday.