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Stephen Harper: Why it’s time to stop negotiating with Iran

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
 
In the shadow of Russia’s appalling war against its peaceful neighbour, misguided efforts to revive the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal have continued.

The dangerous naiveté among Western leaders that left Ukraine outside NATO also underlies efforts to make deals with Tehran. We should hope that negotiators do not return to Vienna and that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) process with Iran is abandoned for good.

I spoke out in favour of the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA in 2018 and have long viewed the effort as fatally flawed. Rather than stopping Iran’s nuclear program, the JCPOA in fact left the mullahs inching ever closer to nuclear weapon capabilities.

Worse, the original 2015 deal served to enrich the Iranian regime and helped it finance and expand its terror network that is destabilizing the wider region. A revived deal would provide a new infusion of resources to the Iranian government, empower their ability to threaten neighbours, and advance activities hostile to our interests.

The recent effort to revive the deal has absurdly engaged Russia as a key facilitator of negotiations, at the very moment when its troops are perpetrating war crimes in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Iran has predictably used the talks to push for additional, outrageous concessions, such as the removal of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps from the U.S. terror list.

There are two deeper problems underlying efforts to re-start the JCPOA.

First, the approach fails to recognize that Iran’s nuclear program is only a manifestation of its extremist Shia theocratic ideology. That ideology calls for goals that threaten the wider region. It is why, one step at a time, Iran has been working to build a nascent empire throughout the Middle East: Shia government and militia figures in Iraq, support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Assad regime in Syria, and the Houthi takeover in Yemen.

The correct response to such extremism is deterrence, not accommodation. Western leaders should have recognized this truth in the case of Russia long before Feb. 24. We must not wait for an equally dire moment with Iran to figure it out.

Second, and even more troubling, is that the obsession with engaging Iran has caused many leaders to lose sight of who are our real allies in the region, especially the Gulf Arab nations that share our fundamental security interests. Just as the West needs help from them with the energy challenges presented by dependence on Russia, these countries need our support from the serious threat they face from Iran. Several of them have pursued an unprecedented thawing of relations with the democratic State of Israel, while some in the West seem to be moving in the opposite direction.

Again, the West is failing to recognize a fundamental principle: you embrace willing friends and stand up to implacable foes, regardless of systems of internal administration.

The Sun’s political columnist Brian Lilley says Justin Trudeau and the NDP are trying to keep Canadians from knowing what happened with two scientists fired from a lab in Winnipeg.

The refusal of the U.S. administration to build ties with Saudi Arabia is an alarming case in point. The Kingdom is embarked on a wide range of reforms that the West has long wished for: greatly increased economic and social rights for women, freedom to travel abroad, accelerating economic diversification through Vision 2030, the crackdown on extremist actors and ideologies, and more.

Yet there is silence from Washington, just as Vladimir Putin works overtime to build bridges.

Western leaders must learn from the mistakes that led to the attack on Ukraine and start dealing with the world in accord with our own security interests. We must return to policies anchored in the concept of peace through strength. This means boosting our own capacities, but also working more closely with those with whose interests we are aligned.

A nuclear armed Iran, with its apocalyptic vision, would be nothing short of catastrophic for its regional neighbours and global security, including the interests of North America.  We must be pragmatic and strategic about deepening cooperation with those who have an existential stake in containing the dangerous theocrats in Tehran.

The breakdown of the JCPOA talks in Vienna is not a tragedy. It is an opportunity for the West to learn from its mistakes and choose a more rational path forward.

— Stephen Harper was the 22nd prime minister of Canada and is chairman and CEO of Harper & Associates Consulting

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