OTTAWA – Maintaining sanctions on Iran will only hurt Canadian companies such as Montreal-based airplane manufacturer Bombardier, says Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion.
Dion said Tuesday that Canada will lift a series of sanctions on Iran, while leaving some others in place, following that country’s historic nuclear deal with six major western powers earlier this month.
That’s the same approach followed by Canada’s allies, including the United States and the European Union.
Iran is anxious to do business with the West, as its president tours Europe signing deals and looking for new ones. That includes buying aircraft; Iran says it has reached a deal to buy jets from the French consortium Airbus.
“If Airbus is able to do it, why Bombardier would not be able to do it?” Dion said. “In which way (is it) helping Canada, or the Iranian people, or Israel, or anyone that Canada is hurting its own industry?”
The opposition Conservatives continue to push the Liberals to maintain a hardline policy towards Iran, including sanctions and keeping its embassy shuttered in Tehran.
“The intention of the federal Liberal government to lift sanctions against Iran is 180 degrees in the wrong direction,” said Conservative foreign affairs critic Tony Clement.
He said Canadian companies “can find plenty of other places in the world to do business where the country is not a state sponsor of terrorism.”
The former Conservative government severed diplomatic relations with Iran in 2012 and expelled Iranian diplomats from Canada.
Dion said Canada would be isolated from allies if it maintained sanctions against Iran. He said it’s time for Canada to talk to countries that it doesn’t necessarily agree with.
“When you have a disagreement with a regime … you work hard to be sure that you will see improvement,” said Dion. “It’s what our allies did in negotiating with Iran an agreement that is good for the world.”
Dion has also said the time has come to open diplomatic dialogue with Russia, prompting more criticism from Tory MPs, whose former government shunned Russia because of its actions in Ukraine.
The Liberal foreign policy moves amount to a reversal of previous Conservative actions. On Russia, former prime minister Stephen Harper conspicuously avoided talking to Russian President Vladimir Putin, unlike many of his fellow western leaders.
Harper snubbed Putin at the 2014 G20 summit in Australia until a chance encounter forced him to briefly shake the Russian president’s hand while telling him, to his face, to “get out of Ukraine.”
Dion said Canada can engage with Russia “in a cautious way” and “when we have common interest” such as in the Arctic, while still being supportive to Ukraine, a part of which Russian-backed forces have unilaterally annexed.
“We have a lot of disagreements with the government of Russia, but it’s certainly not the way to stop to speak with them when the Americans speak with them and all the Europeans, the Japanese — everybody except Canada.”
Clement said that policy amounts to Canada “turning its back on the people of Ukraine” and “playing footsie with Putin.”
Clement said that when the Conservatives were in power, they had a “reality-based” foreign policy towards Russia’s aggression in Eastern Europe.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had an incorrect first name for the foreign affairs minister.