It will take more than a long-distance phone call, even a historic one, to thaw diplomatic relations between Canada and Iran, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird indicated in an interview with CBC Radio's The House.
U.S. President Barack Obama's spoke by phone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Friday, marking the first time leaders from the U.S. and Iran have spoken in over 30 years.
When asked about the phone call, Baird told host Evan Solomon he welcomed the change in tone but that Canada remained "skeptical."
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Baird conceded that "good talk is better than bad talk" but quickly pointed out that, "we haven't seen any movement yet" despite Obama's show of optimism following Friday's rare phone call.
Obama said, following his meeting with Rouhani, that he believed the U.S. and Iran can reach a comprehensive solution over the latter's nuclear program.
"We think actions will speak louder than words," Baird said.
The minister outlined three areas where Canada would like to see "real movement" on the part of Iran, namely:
- Its nuclear program.
- Its support of terrorism.
- Its "atrocious" human rights record.
"We hope they can become compliant with the United Nations Security Council sanctions on its nuclear programs and take some real steps back from the brink."
Keeping up the pressure on Iran
Rouhani announced, ahead of his visit to the UN, the release of almost 80 political prisoners, including a Canadian,
When asked about the good-will gesture, Baird said "we appreciate the release of these political prisoners," but quickly added that they "should never have been in jail in the first place."
"We are not going to pop the champagne just yet," Baird said.
The minister also expressed worry over rewarding the new Iranian president prematurely.
"I am concerned that there is a little bit too much enthusiasm as a result of the different tone. And what we hope is, the world won't take the pressure off the regime to make the substantive changes that are needed."
"The stakes are so high, we have to stay focused on what actions they take," Baird said.
Baird also said Canada would like to see Iran allow women to run for the office in the next election. "In order for an election to be legitimate you can't disqualify 51 per cent of the population."
"I hope my skepticism is wrong," Baird concluded.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed similar skepticism in Ottawa on Tuesday. "I certainly would not fault President Obama and our allies for trying," to improve relations with Tehran, said Harper. "But my sincere advice would be, when it comes to the government of Iran, that we should carefully monitor deeds far more than words."
Harper added that he has no plans to restore Canada's diplomatic presence in Tehran.
Last year, Canada suspended diplomatic relations with Iran and expelled 18 Iranian diplomats from its embassy in Ottawa, including the chargé d'affaires.
Baird will be in New York on Monday to represent Canada at the UN General Assembly, where he is scheduled to address all member states.