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Baird urges tough stand on Iran as nuclear talks loom

Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Friday February 17, 2012.

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Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has urged key countries heading into nuclear talks with Iran to maintain a hard line on sanctions.

Mr. Baird convened a meeting on Wednesday with ambassadors from so-called "P5+1" countries, who will meet Iranian negotiators in Moscow early next week. His message: don't ease sanctions until Iran makes a firm deal to back away from nuclear weapons.

For Canada, it marked an unusual effort to get its views in before the talks and seek to stiffen the spine of negotiators from the countries that take part in nuclear talks with Iran, known as the P5+1 because they are the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France – plus Germany. The European Union is also involved in the talks.

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Mr. Baird echoed the concerns of Israel and conservatives in the United States that Iran not be allowed relief from sanctions – which are now starting to bite – until the talks are concluded.

"The minister had a constructive discussion with the P5+1 representatives here in Ottawa and hopes that Canada's concerns will be reflected upon before the meeting on Iran in Moscow," a spokesman, Richard Roth, said in an e-mail.

"He has been clear that Iran should not be rewarded for merely showing up, and that they should not be allowed to use these talks as a delay tactic."

Mr. Baird has taken an active diplomatic role with the P5+1 countries and holding regular phone calls with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is playing a leading role for western nations. He personally met with the half-dozen diplomats – a deputy sat in for out-of-town U.S. ambassador David Jacobson – on Wednesday.

The talks in Moscow on June 18 and 19 are aimed at striking a deal for Iran to drop efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Israel and U.S. President Barack Obama have threatened to use military strikes to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons – but while the United States has emphasized diplomatic efforts for now, Israel has warned it will soon be too late to stop Tehran.

Iran insists its nuclear program is strictly civilian, but the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported signs that Tehran has secretly taken steps toward a weapons capability.

But what's not clear is how far Iran must go to strike a deal. The United States says it wants to prevent Iran from getting the bomb, but Israel wants it to drop all nuclear-enrichment activities – a concession Iran is unlikely to make.

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"I think that is highly unrealistic. It's unfeasible," said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council in the United States and author of A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran.

"I think it deprives the P5+1 ... of the ability to actually bargain and negotiate."

Iran is probably willing to discuss limits on its enrichment activities, but not stopping them entirely. A deal depends on accepting some enrichment but agreeing to further inspections and rules that would prevent Tehran from building weapons, he said.

Because it's an election year in the United States, the Obama Administration probably wants to calm the situation because sanctions on its oil will affect international markets.

But Mr. Parsi argues that, far from being willing to ease sanctions just to keep talks going, the U.S. president may have little leeway to accept a reasonable deal.

"Clearly the Obama Administration had absolutely no intention of rewarding them for just showing up," Mr. Parsi said. "The problem is even if the Iranians give a nuclear concession, there's pressure for the U.S. not to lift sanctions."

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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