The federal government is making plans to meet with officials from the Iranian regime in Ottawa, despite friction over the Middle East state’s deadly crackdown on peaceful protesters, repeated cyberattacks on the Canadian government and the death of at least one Canadian citizen in a Tehran jail.
Officials with Global Affairs Canada asserted their plans to host the Iranian officials during a sit-down with their U.S. counterparts in January, even as the Trump administration was reiterating its plans to harden Washington’s line on Tehran.
Talking points prepared for the meeting say that “at some point an Iranian delegation will likely come to Ottawa, but no timeline has been established.” The briefing materials note that “Canadian officials visited Tehran in May and October 2017 to discuss re-engagement and a range of regional and bilateral issues.”
The office of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland confirmed that there are still plans to invite representatives from the Iranian government to Canada, but a date has not yet been picked.
Canada hasn’t had its own diplomatic mission in Iran since Ottawa shut down its embassy there in 2012, shortly after Parliament listed Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. The potential meeting in Ottawa is the first major indication of a reset in relations with the theocratic state.
Canada has never publicly announced that it plans on welcoming Iranian officials into the country, although it has twice sent Global Affairs officials to Iran. Both of those visits occurred last year, marking the first real diplomatic interactions between Canada and Iran since 2012. As part of the re-engagement, Ms. Freeland has held several calls with her Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The talking points prepared for the Washington gathering, obtained by The Globe and Mail through the Access to Information Act, break down the meeting into three themes: “Canada’s response to Iranian threats,” which included Tehran’s nuclear program and its support for terrorism; “Suggestions for great multilateral co-operation,” focused on including Ottawa in efforts to monitor Iran’s nuclear weapons program; and “Canada’s re-engagement with Iran.”
That third item on the agenda for the U.S.-Canada High-Level Policy Review Group meeting, held on Jan. 19, was expected to be the thorniest, because Ottawa’s rapprochement with Tehran conflicts with the Trump administration’s position. “The U.S. administration is hardening its position on Iran,” the briefing notes acknowledge.
None of the legible sections of those talking points make mention of the protests that had gripped Iran at the time.
In December, demonstrations began to crop up across the Middle Eastern country, as citizens protested rising costs of living and plans to end subsidies for commercial goods, with some calling for the ouster of President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
During those protests, state security services responded with force, killing more than 20, injuring scores more and detaining thousands. Tehran also deployed its internet-blocking technology to censor social media and communication apps.
Canada’s foreign affairs department was monitoring the protests closely. By early January, the department was preparing daily briefings on the state of the countrywide protests.
Around the time of those protests, both Ms. Freeland and Mr. Zarif attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Global Affairs wrote briefing notes for the minister in preparation for a hypothetical meeting.
“Canada is deeply troubled by the recent deaths and detentions of protesters in Iran,” the talking point prepared for the minister says. The two, in the end, did not meet during the forum, according to Global Affairs Canada.
Beyond the state’s harsh response to the public demonstrations, the internal documents note that “Iranian actions at the regional level remain of concern,” specifically its interference in sectarian conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
The briefing notes say those actions could hurt the effort to destroy the Islamic State. “Further deterioration of stability could threaten the viability of Canadian operations,” they say.
Iran has also been identified as the culprit in a number of cyberattacks targeting Canadian systems, and has been condemned internationally for its treatment of Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi, who died in a prison in Tehran in 2003.
As part of the thawing relations between the two countries, Ottawa has forged ahead on plans to have Tehran ink a contract with Quebec manufacturer Bombardier for 10 CRJ-900 jets. One page of the documents released to The Globe pertain to commercial dealings with Iran.
The Financial Tribune, an English-language paper in Iran, quoted a party close to the deal last month as saying that the agreement would be finalized soon, with financing coming from the government of Canada.