EDMONTON -- The ongoing discussions in Geneva between the U.S., Russia, U.K., France, China, Germany and Iran have concluded with a historic deal for the West in its attempt to persuade Iran to cease its quest for nuclear weaponry.
The deal is being heralded as a diplomatic victory for the Obama administration. It has now been revealed the U.S. and Iran have been engaged in secret talks for more than a year, which is likely to be touted as a major success for an American president whose foreign policy record to date has been nothing if not abysmal.
During this period, Canada's stance on Iran, however, has come under fire. Some have even accused it of hurting the Geneva process by not welcoming the new tone of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with open arms and by casting doubt over the regime's true motives.
But Canada is the only state that has been putting pressure on Iran for issues other than the nuclear one.
On Nov. 7, a few days before Rouhani reached 100 days in office, Foreign Minister John Baird penned a harshly worded editorial in the National Post that centred almost entirely on Iran's horrendous human rights record and the new regime's failure to address rights issues in any serious way. According to Baird, "We do not have the luxury of being naive. Nor do the Iranian people, who have suffered for far too long. Standing in front of cameras and tweeting about change are all too easy. The hard part is following through, making difficult decisions and undertaking meaningful change. We must judge the Iranian government by its deeds, not its words. President Rouhani marks his first 100 days in office on Tuesday and, by any measure, these deeds have fallen short."
Baird's public position on Iran was made clear well before this editorial when, in September while speaking at the UN, he made it known Canada would not be fooled by Iran's "charm offensive" and Iran's human rights record posed a serious problem to the international community.
To some, Baird's position on Iran's human rights record is purely for public relations consumption. Bear in mind many of Baird's criticisms of Iran pertaining to human rights could also be applied to other Persian Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia. But, at a time when the U.S. in particular is focused on progress and maintaining a message of optimism with Iran, Canada has used the opportunity to remind the world Iran's regime is not to be trusted, regardless of what the Iranian president is posting on Twitter.
It is often said the Harper government has long neglected foreign policy since its 2006 election, and it is difficult to argue against that notion.
However, credit should be given to Baird for his handling of the foreign policy file since he was appointed minister in 2011. It is no easy task being the minister for an issue area the prime minister shows little regard for, but Baird has been the sole bright spot for a government with a poor foreign affairs track record. Baird has handled many tricky issues well and has maintained his positions on human rights when others have shied away, including over the contentious anti-gay laws in Russia.
The Iranian regime is not in Geneva because it genuinely wants to stop its bid for nuclear weaponry. It is there because the economic sanctions have hurt. It is doubtful Iran will live up to the newly signed agreement and it is likely it will continue its march toward becoming a nuclear power.
As such, Baird is quite right to remind international society a deal on the nuclear variable cannot overshadow the ongoing rights abuses in Iran. Canada's position on Iran is both bold and correct at a time when the world needs it.
Robert Murray is an adjunct professor in the political science department at the University of Alberta.