Canada: Restoring ties with Iran easier said than done

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News of a Canadian-Iranian academic’s release from Iranian prison has raised fresh hopes for a detente in Canada’s glacial relations with Iran but a Canadian expert says restoring relations with the Islamic Republic is far from a done deal.

“It may be a sign that some progress is being made or could be made in the larger issue of re-establishing relations with Iran, so this was something the Iranians wished to do to help clear the decks for that,” Peter Jones, associate professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at University of Ottawa and an expert on Iran, said last Tuesday reacting to news of release of Homa Hoodfar, the Canadian-Iranian academic.

On the other hand, there is also the possibility that Hoodfar’s health had taken such a dramatic turn for the worse during her imprisonment that Iranian authorities simply didn’t want to deal with the public relations fallout had she died in their custody, Jones said.

Former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper cut Canada’s diplomatic ties with Iran in September 2012, when he closed the Canadian embassy in Tehran and expelled Iranian diplomats from Ottawa.

In January, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government lifted most sanctions imposed on Iran after Tehran reached a deal with international powers to curb the country’s contentious nuclear program.

However, there are some issues between Canada and Iran that make it difficult to imagine that there will be some rapid movement on reestablishment of relationships unless those issues are dealt with, he said.

“Primarily for the Iranians Canada has listed Iran as a terror supporting country under the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act and the Iranians have made it pretty clear they want that listing to be dropped and the Canadian side has said it won’t do that,” Jones said. “So, unless either side is going to change its position on that particular issue, dramatic breakthrough seems to be unlikely.”

Still, there are things Ottawa and Tehran can do short of reopening embassies to begin the process of re-establishing diplomatic relations, Jones said.

“For example, diplomats who are present in other countries can be cross-posted, they can be accredited to be representative in Iran and in Canada,” he said.