Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Canada’s most-awarded
newsroom for a reason
Stay informed for a
lot less, cancel anytime
“Exemplary reporting on
COVID-19” – Herman L
per week
for 24 weeks
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

The earth moved Sunday in Geneva when the United States, its P5 plus 1 negotiating partners and Iran came to an interim agreement on Iran's nuclear program. Only time will tell whether it is the start of a longer affair or just a one-night stand that both sides will later regret. If the romance blooms, Canada should reassess its own dysfunctional relationship with Iran before we are left behind by our partners.

The interim agreement rolls back some important parts of Iran's nuclear program, enlarges somewhat the theoretical 'break-out' time period that Iran would need to produce enough nuclear fuel for a weapon and provides for greater inspection of Iran's nuclear facilities. In return, Iran gets some limited relief from sanctions. The parties have also committed to a six-month negotiating process aimed at settling the nuclear issue.

The agreement is a success for President Barack Obama's two-track policy. For the past several years he kept the military option against Iran on the table while also convincing the international community to increase economic sanctions on Iran. This was his pressure track.

Story continues below advertisement

At the same time he eschewed a policy of regime change towards Iran and along with its P5 plus 1 partners, sought a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue. This was his diplomatic track.

The two tracks of American policy brought Iran to the table, but for a long time they failed to produce a viable agreement. Again and again as the international community increased sanctions, Iran responded by expanding its nuclear program. This would have eventually led to a showdown. At the very least the agreement in Geneva has temporarily stopped the drift towards confrontation and improved the chances for a peaceful resolution of the issue.

It only came about because the Iranian people ignored international calls to boycott the presidential elections and instead voted massively in favour of the only candidate, Hassan Rouhani, who argued for engagement with the international community. This was a mandate for change that Iran's hardliners could not ignore.

The interim agreement is also a success for Mr. Rouhani. At the United Nations in September he made it clear that Iran would retain nuclear enrichment but also said that Iran would act to remove concerns about its nuclear program. The interim agreement just announced is consistent with that position; indeed it is consistent with the offer that Mr. Rouhani made to the Europeans a decade ago. Mr. Rouhani has negotiated the first, very modest reversal in international sanctions, while still preserving a reduced nuclear enrichment program on Iranian soil. This was one of his key election promises and he has delivered.

Now comes the hard part. The deal must be implemented and it must lead to further negotiations aimed at a lasting and fully verifiable settlement of Iran's nuclear issue.

What can Canada do to help? The answer is – not very much – because Canada suspended diplomatic relations with Iran last year and has no functioning relationship with the country. To paraphrase former prime minister Joe Clark, we lectured Iran and left.

It's hard to understand why our government did so, because our current position on the interim agreement is not that different from the P5 plus 1 group. In his press conference on Nov. 24, Foreign Minister John Baird provided cautious support for the interim agreement while maintaining a healthy skepticism. Iran has cheated in the past and it is right to insist on stringent inspections. While our tone towards Iran remains unnecessarily hostile, in substance our position on the interim agreement appears to be closer to the United States than Israel, who lost no time in denouncing it as an historic mistake.

Story continues below advertisement

Even our tone towards Iran has become slightly more measured. In his press conference, Mr. Baird refrained from insulting Mr. Rouhani in public. This has to be considered as progress for Canada-Iran relations because as recently as last June in Israel, he was openly contemptuous of Iran's new president and tried to set a three-month deadline on the nuclear negotiations.

Where Canada remains out of step with both the United States and the United Kingdom is the almost complete dysfunction of our bilateral relationship with Iran. Neither Canada nor the United Kingdom nor the United States has a diplomatic presence on the ground in Tehran. But both our allies have found a way to develop a functioning relationship with Iran based on sustained high-level contact and a reasonable amount of personal civility in how they interact with Iran's leaders.

As our partners move forwards towards the implementation of the interim agreement Canadian should begin asking our government why Canada can't re-engage with Iran ourselves. We owe it to our own Iranian community, which wants to maintain contact with their loved ones back home and to the imprisoned Canadian citizens which our government abandoned when we pulled out of Tehran last September.

John Mundy is a retired Canadian diplomat who served as Canada's last ambassador to Iran. He is a currently at the University of Ottawa, where he is a senior associate at the University's Centre for International Policy Studies.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies