Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Issue No. 19 - Evidence - Meeting of March 1, 2017
OTTAWA, Wednesday, March 1, 2017
The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade,
to which was referred Bill S-219, An Act to deter Iran-sponsored terrorism,
incitement to hatred, and human rights violations, met this day at 4:18 p.m.
to give consideration to the bill; and to study opportunities for
strengthening cooperation with Mexico since the tabling, in June 2015, of
the committee report entitled North American Neighbours: Maximizing
Opportunities and Strengthening Cooperation for a more Prosperous Future
(consideration of a draft budget).
Senator A. Raynell Andreychuk (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign
Affairs. We will continue today to examine Bill S-219, An Act to deter
Iran-sponsored terrorism, incitement to hatred, and human rights violations.
Appearing before us by video conference from Indiana is Mr. George A.
Lopez, Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., Professor Emeritus of Peace
Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of
Thank you for joining us, Mr. Lopez. I know that you've been in touch
with the clerk and you know we are studying this bill, which is a private
member's bill in the Senate of Canada. We have had various witnesses
reflecting on parts of the bill. I trust that you have seen the bill and can
add to our discussions. The floor is yours, and we will follow with
George A. Lopez, Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C, Professor Emeritus
of Peace Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, as
an individual: Thank you, members of the committee. It's truly an honour
for me to be with you this afternoon to talk about these very important
issues of how to constrain terrorism and enhance, improve and protect human
rights in a difficult situation like contemporary Iran.
As both Canada and my own country applauded the agreement with Iran,
certified by the Security Council and negotiated by the P5+1 over a year
ago, we know that Iran still is a multifaceted country in how it interprets
its own security concerns and provides hatred-based action to internal
politics quite often, particularly represses certain religious groups, has
provided extreme amounts of support for the terrorist group Hezbollah,
particularly in the Syrian war, and has changed the character of that
struggle of the Syrian people in its nature.
Iran is often on the radar screen of international agencies and human
rights organizations, as well as those that monitor terrorism. Although many
of us were hopeful with the 2013 election of Mr. Rouhani, seemingly a
moderate, and his subsequent signing of that agreement with the West, it's
clear that he has neither the political leverage nor the inclination to
change some long-standing Iranian behaviour with regard to the Bahá'í and
internal dissent. Often, as Canada well knows in the situation of one of
your own professors held in an Iranian jail for a number of months, they
have no qualms about also jailing foreigners who are there in various
capacities to extend goodwill to the Iranian people.
The case of Iran is particularly disturbing because of the strengths and
actions within the domestic political arena, and the foreign policy actions
of the Revolutionary Guard. I was encouraged in the bill you are discussing
today to see a precise focus on the work of the guard and an attempt to
document and be clear about their particular actions.
Committee members are well aware of the ways in which targeted sanctions
used by your country, my own and others have had some success in dealing
with bad actors in the international arena. We now have a set of tools
regarding the freezing of financial assets, going after the bank accounts of
actors like the Revolutionary Guard, suspending credits and controlling
international financial exchanges outside our own country with regard to the
interactions with these actors. We have ways of denying them actions and
denying them contact with different kinds of financial markets. Ultimately,
we have the ability to ban travel of individuals associated with these
All of these have been useful and effective tools. At the same time, most
of us who are either researchers or practitioners in the sanctions area know
that there are sometimes limits to the effectiveness of these if
effectiveness is defined as changing the behaviours of the actors we target.
Most observers caution that sanctions are successful in improving human
rights performance less than 33 per cent of the time. Our track record with
not only deterring but also changing the resources available to terrorist
groups is higher than that, often in the upper 40s. When you look at
concerted international and national action with regard to al- Qaeda, ISIL
or others, we have probably a higher success rate.
The debate about the effectiveness of sanctions for punishing human
rights violators or enhancing the human rights in fragile environments is
quite a difficult and strong one. The plain reality of history is that
sanctions to improve human rights, however severe, have never toppled a
repressive regime or a dictator. But they have had success in safeguarding
rights in a particular country when what is going on in that country is
domestic protest against the repression. The stronger the regime is in
crushing that domestic opposition, the more difficult it is to have our
sanctions be effective.
Generally, when analysts talk about how we can maximize whatever leverage
we can get from human rights sanctions, it's often related to the question
of how dependent that target regime or its actors are on us, or
interdependent with regard to economic interchange. In other words, if you
want to strong-arm, convince or persuade a regime to change its behaviour,
it's got to be on the basis of things they feel will really inflict economic
pain because we withdraw or withhold the kind of economic interaction we
have long had.
When people critique sanctions as being effective, they often suggest
that it's because they were designed in a flawed way, they didn't go after
the correct human rights actors, or that there are likely to be implemented
with only a half- hearted approach as a government turns its back on certain
business entities that want to continue contact in that country under
sanctions. I don't detect any of those weaknesses in the bill you shared
with me, Bill S-219. I think you're right on in terms of thinking about how
you document, monitor and continue to point to the specific violators within
the Iranian government on sanctions and terrorism issues.
At the same time, our lessons of the past two decades point to ways in
which sanctions to constrain or shut down terrorism or improve human rights
have gone astray, and how we might make sure at this point of developing a
bill that we don't fall victim to those past dilemmas.
The first dilemma of course is well-known: Sanctions are seen and most
effective when they are a tool to policy- makers, such as you, in service to
a larger policy. When sanctions move to be the de facto policy themselves —
the biggest example being what the West collectively fell into in the 1990s
with collective sanctions against Iraq — you have a failed tool because of
an unarticulated and unspecified policy. It's certainly fair to say we're
trying to improve human rights or do away with terrorism as some of the
larger policy dimensions, but I'd urge to you think to be more specific
within that framework as to the kinds of changes in behaviour you want the
Iranians to undertake and then take the targeted financial and other actions
that you believe will hit the targets most likely to feel the economic pain
to produce the political change you want in behaviour.
Second, flowing from this reality about tools versus policy, human rights
sanctions take longer to get compliance than other sanctions. That's because
the regime has already considered the costs and benefits of violating
international norms, or the way that more domestic protest may occur on the
streets if they put in jail those who are already protesting. They have done
a cost-benefit analysis in which they have judged, rightly or wrongly, that
their survival is something that they are willing to stake as the highest
institutional order, and they will absorb or deter certain kinds of economic
pain that sanctions would bring.
When we have had some success in actually getting compliance on human
rights sanctions, we find it's very piecemeal or partial, such as when
political prisoners are released but religious persecution generally hasn't
ended, or when certain support for particular terrorists is withdrawn but
support for the favoured organization remains — in other words, a mixed
record of improvement. We might even be skeptical about the intention being
symbolic rather than a real change of policy. What makes continuing the
sanctions most difficult is trying to figure out how we get the kind of
reaction these sanctions intend.
Sanctions, therefore, work best when they don't only punish the actors in
question or deny them resources, however important resource denial is, in
areas like Syria. Sanctions are more effective when they not only enrage the
target but set up a mechanism for engaging the target in bargaining; that
is, inflicting sufficient pain and showing a willingness to keep at it in
which you can then verbally and symbolically recognize partial compliance
but say that this has now become so complex that it's time to sit down and
bargain it out. When sanctions are most successful, they bring imposers and
targets to the table to try to work out the crisis that generated sanctions
in the first place.
Finally, it's important to note that sanctions, particularly the targeted
kind, are only half of the policy tools that are often available to decision
makers. They are representative of the sticks. Often states and certain
kinds of legislation fail to recognize or to think through the particular
carrots to bestow or lay out for the party under sanctioning to choose, if
their behaviour increases according to international norms.
This clearly is one of the mechanisms that worked in the comprehensive
agreement with the Iranians with regard to nuclear dynamics in that they
could re-engage in domestic trade and investment with the West in exchange
for guaranteeing intrusive inspections. The creative challenge for
legislators going after terrorists or trying to improve human rights is
determining the equivalent carrot that we can give or Canada can give under
conditions of first imposing sanctions and then continuing to have that in
our toolbox to work with to change Iranian behaviour.
I have three final comments.
I think those of us who have been frustrated with the slowness of
improving human rights through targeted and strong measures are now focusing
on new techniques that are important to examine. The first and most
important may be a thorough analysis of the trade between our country and
our businesses worldwide in high-tech communications goods, cellphones and
satellites that might be used by a repressive regime to go after domestic
We saw this in Syria writ large in that we came to too late an awareness
of the way the Assad regime was able to target opponents and be there with
snipers before a demonstration occurred because they had intercepted
cellphone communications. What had that regime done in the midst of the
beginning of protests? It went out on the international marketplace and
bought tons of enhanced equipment, including the ability to decipher
encryption. So now the jamming and discovery of the user's nature and their
position is a big tool of repressive regimes. We have to think creatively in
our own sanctioning how we go after those goods and deprive them of the
actors who are using force in this illegitimate way.
A second concern is that we go after the primary entities such as the big
power leaders and enforcers like the Revolutionary Guard, but human rights
analysts are now asking who the enablers are. Who are the pillars that these
groups stand on, whether financially or in various other ways of controlling
information? It is important for the folks who enact human rights on the
ground to dig a little bit at a second and third level.
I've often thought that the ability to get prison officials' names in
what we know are political prisons and torture chambers and put them tonne
lists and go after their internal bank accounts, even though they're not the
big elites that hide things in Zurich banks. That sends a message to those
enablers to think about changing their behaviour.
Lastly, I think in considering legislation, we might refer to an
interesting article, an op-ed that appeared in The Guardian about 10
days ago now, written by the analyst John Prendergast and his colleague,
George Clooney, who is very committed to this, which argued that the money
laundering techniques available to countries — they particularly were citing
Great Britain, but also inferring other European banks — have not been fully
applied in going after the movement of funds from kleptocracies and human
rights abusers in Africa that are not exactly low-hanging fruit. In the
absence of banking vigilance and rubric specified in legislation, people
continue to wash their money through London, New York and other kinds of
banks. The extent to which banks in Canada, very operative in the
international arena, may unwittingly be part of this through their
subsidiaries in New York and London is something you might want to focus on
and talk with bankers about where they are in this kind of capturing of
laundered money from groups like the Revolutionary Guard.
I'll stop there, hope that our video maintains itself and look forward to
your questions and challenges. Thank you so much.
The Chair: Thank you.
Senator Ngo: Thank you, professor, for your presentation.
Our experience with economic sanction in Iran has been limited to
deterring nuclear proliferation, so the levers are new to Canada as we look
at reducing human rights abuses, discouraging incitement to hatred speeches,
and cooling state-sponsored terrorism in Iran.
We have heard from a few witnesses who mentioned that establishing
sanctions for these reasons would kill any possibility of re-engagement with
Iran. Do you think economic sanctions are an effective way to undermine the
capacity of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its affiliates to
conduct its abuse function?
Mr. Lopez: That is a very good question and such an important one;
thank you, senator. I would refer to my last set of comments. I think where
you have the ability to constrain and influence the Revolutionary Guard is
to analyze the way they have become an economic powerhouse in investment, in
insurance and in various other areas within Iran, and is some of the chief
agency in carrying out support for terrorism in particular and occasionally
now internal repression.
Think about the carrot side that would go along with the focused
constraint on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. I think direct engagement
with Iranian trade officials and talking about your sense that because Iran
has lived up to the nuclear agreement it opens the prospect for greater
business ties and various things within Iran, but at the same time your
values and norms as a democratic Western state are appalled by what's
happening in human rights. In the hopes of building better relationships and
an improved domestic human rights environment, you're going to play both
sides against the middle. You're going to stand up for human rights issues
by focusing on the Revolutionary Guard and making sure they're not able to
move their monies in and out of the country and use them illicitly, but at
the same time allow your companies, corporations and banks to engage with
Iran on business that will improve the general economic climate of the
average Iranian. I think that mixture of the carrot and sticks is something
that they will be attracted to, even while they condemn in every second
comment your intrusion into their domestic politics.
Senator Ngo: Do you think if Canada renewed engagement with Iran
could detract attention from ongoing human right abuses and support of
terrorism in the country?
Mr. Lopez: I think it does the day after you pass that policy and
you find yourself in some stinging editorials from human rights
organizations, who believe that that immediate action is a retreat from your
values and norms. But again, a well-articulated larger policy that suggests
we can't change their behaviour unless we have fuller engagement, and we see
this as a six-month, one-year, eighteen-month tool to serve the larger
policy that we're going to continue to monitor and examine and judge, that
might not only buy your time with some critics, but also have you on the
ground when hopefully things begin to further improve in Iran.
Senator Gold: Thank you for your presence here today. Carrying on
with your notion of the carrots and sticks if I can use that image, my
question has to do with some specifics in this bill and whether or not it
may be too blunt an instrument to achieve both sides of that larger policy
about which you spoke. In particular, I wanted to focus on Article 5.1 that
stipulates that unless and until there are two consecutive reports that show
that there's no credible evidence of terrorist activity, support of
terrorism, incitements of hatred or significant progress with respect to
human rights that the sanctions cannot be relaxed or changed.
If it is the case that we need a blend of policy instruments, the
sanctions plus the incentives — the potential rewards — might this bill be
too blunt on instrument to achieve those ends?
Mr. Lopez: I'm glad you asked that question. I've honestly felt as
a citizen of your southern neighbour that it was not my place in the initial
presentation to raise some specific concerns about how far the legislation
has gone, but since you posed the important question, I will be neighbourly
I very much share that concern. At the same time, one of the interesting
dynamics of carrots and sticks is that it's always easy to legislate the
specifics of the sticks. The carrots tend to be more pronouncements from the
foreign ministry, from the Prime Minister's Office and not from Parliament.
What Parliament might have to do is to okay a new banking or trade deal, it
might send messages to the ministry and to the Prime Minister that this is
an important initiative to pursue and it works hand in hand with the
sanctions we just passed.
But I do believe that the first level, if you're going to mix carrots and
sticks, it's important to understand that we legislate sticks but we have to
do civil society and government-led empowerment on the carrot side.
Now I'll address with regard to 5.1 and the rubric here of two
consecutive years. If I were the singular author, I would think about
six-month monitoring and be clear that we're going to try to take advantage
of limited but clear improvements in certain areas of human rights, and
decreases in support of terrorism, and that we've made enough diversity in
the sanctions we've levied that there are some things that we can pull back,
put on hold or suspend — and the debate will occur — as reward for improved
Our good human rights colleagues will assault us for accepting too little
in too easy a time and rewarding it, but we know that punishment and
isolation don't produce change either. So we want to engage in this kind of
quid pro quo with the Iranians, being very clear that improved behaviour
will be recognized and noticed. At the same time, we'll look for an
escalation of improved behaviour to get on more standard economic
relationships and in order to remove the sanctions. In an ideal world, we'll
engage in direct bargaining with the Iranians about that.
Part of the thing to consider here is that we are maybe six months but
certainly 12 months away from the prospects of a full ceasefire end to this
brutality in Syria. Hezbollah will go home in large part. Whatever financial
aid Iran gives to the remaining regime, which will probably be Assad, will
be seen by them as part of what should be a major multilateral aid package
to reconstruct stability in this broken state.
So where does Canada want to be at that moment? Do you want to be at that
moment already having engaged the Iranians in a way in which when they stop
funding Hezbollah and Syria and Hezbollah goes home that you can then become
part of what Canada's great tradition is; namely, aiding societies as
they're reconstructing and peace-building after a humanitarian crisis? Then
you would have that leverage and posture of already being committed to that
mix of carrots and sticks.
I'm sorry for the length of that answer, but I think it's a critical
question for the structure of your legislation. Again, it's not having the
tool become that policy but having that larger policy vision that looks
ahead at the realities on the ground, particularly in Syria.
Senator Oh: Mr. Lopez, you are an expert on economic sanctions and
peace-building. I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on what is the most
strategic way for Canada to engage with Iran. Seeing as you are based at the
University of Notre Dame, could you also discuss whether the type of
engagement that the United States has pursued with Iran has been successful?
Mr. Lopez: Thank you for your characterization of me as an expert.
That's sometimes a burden and sometimes a joy, of course.
Let me start with the bigger picture of engagement. Where does Canada
want to be with regard to diplomatic relations with Iran? Is Iran a nation
that has agreed to the most intrusive inspections regime in history and
lived up to all the dynamics of an accord that P5+1, the Security Council
and the IAEA asked it to do? All the evidence we have is that, yes, they
have. This is why in my own country, if you don't mind the example, a
candidate who was elected saying "This is a lousy deal that's going out the
window the first day'' still hasn't commented on it, and his own foreign
policy staff is thinking, "We may have bigger problems than an agreement
that actually works with the Iranians.''
My concern about actions in my own country as they reflect the
possibilities that may be open to Canada are that I think my own
legislature, the U.S. Congress, in passing in December and being likely to
pass and extend again legislation condemning Iran for human rights
violations and support of terrorism, and putting on new and more direct
extensive sanctions against other actors — in our case, as the primary
debate partner with the Iranians on the nuclear side, we have mixed the
carrots and sticks incorrectly. There's no question that Iran engages in
this bad behaviour, but if you wanted to get the maximum amount of leverage
that sanctions would give you by lifting them as we did in the nuclear era,
you should not have obstructed businesses like Boeing, banking systems and
various other actors for maximizing their economic connection to Iran
immediately. We could use that positive economic dynamic as only, in some
respects, U.S. business quickly can with Iranian interests to then engage
about the problem of human rights.
Some of you will recall that in Western society we had a big debate
starting in the 1970s but especially in the late 1980s and 1990s about what
the best way to deal with the apartheid regime in South Africa was. A large
portion of the community said, "Isolate, punish, don't deal with them.'' The
United States talked about constructive engagement, and various other
Western states quietly or outright thought that might be appropriate as a
way to make South Africa ready for full-scale transition. The sanctions
played a role, but so too did the wider strategy of business and engagement.
I ask you in Canada, in response to your question, where are the larger
economic connections with Iranian business, education, science and
technology, and a variety of diplomatic approaches — maybe even opening
diplomatic relations in an embassy? It could be done a bit holding our nose,
because we're doing it tentatively, but we're doing it on the bet that
there's greater leverage and greater possibilities for improved Iranian
behaviour than there are for changed Iranian behaviour from continued
isolation and punishment.
Senator Woo: You've been very good about giving us the metaphor of
the toolbox, and carrots and sticks. You're trying to tell us that we need a
suite of measures and that we should not rely on single instruments to try
to change the behaviours of bad actors like Iran.
I want to get to the prior question you raised at the beginning of your
testimony, which is the efficacy of sanctions, particularly the amount of
leverage that the inflicting partner can impose on the target.
Please don't be shy, from your vantage point in the United States, in
commenting on Canada. We really do want your vantage point. We want your
sense of what you think our leverage really is, our ability to effect change
in behaviour in Iran, given what you may or may not know about the current
state of our economic and other engagement with Iran. How likely is it that
we are able to change behaviour in Tehran?
Mr. Lopez: I think the likelihood is very low because you don't
have the volume and diversity of economic interactions, and, unless you are
engaged at a secondary level with subsidiaries and others of your country
that, from Europe or North Africa, are engaged with Iran, things that are
not readily apparent, I think your leverage is at a relatively low level.
So the question is twofold. In terms of the various tools in search of a
larger policy, does it make sense for a country that doesn't have a full
embassy and full diplomatic relations with the Iranian government to impose
sanctions? The parallel is my country's situation with North Korea. We have
to mobilize lots of other countries, like China, that have leverage,
economic interaction, to be on our side as we make pronouncements about not
importing any more coal. We don't import coal from North Korea. You're in
that same situation.
The second part of this, though, is that I recognize that, as
legislators, you have to reflect the norms and values of the good Canadian
citizens who have elected you. As democracies, we share the notion that no
serious abuse of human rights and no support of terrorism should go
uncritiqued, if not uncondemned, through some policy tool. So as to how you
walk that line to best represent those who voted you in and reflect the best
values of Canada, sanctions seems like a good shortcut sometimes. I'd ask
you: Can you reflect those values, reinforce those norms, condemn, without
engaging in foreign policy economic tools that will have low leverage?
Senator Woo: Thank you very much for that. That's very helpful.
You may have answered my second question, but let me get to it directly.
This gets to the issue of diplomatic engagement and whether or not a bill
such as this one, imposing sanctions, will impede our prospects for
re-engaging with Iran. From your statement, I think you know implicitly that
we do not have an embassy in Iran. We're trying. We've been trying since the
change in government to re-engage and to establish an embassy there. There
are some proponents of this bill who take the view that we should not even
try that. This bill should be the litmus test of whether we, in fact,
diplomatically engage, and there are others who feel that diplomatic
engagement could be part of the toolbox that you're referring to.
You've been a bit nuanced about where you fall on this issue. Could you
be a little less nuanced?
Mr. Lopez: Sure. Thank you. I believe that Mr. Rouhani has pegged
the growth of a moderate reform within Iran as something that has to produce
greater results with their interaction with the globe. Therefore, the more
that Western states like Canada and the United States can aggressively
establish more diplomatic and political ties, the more we can engage in
trade, the more we enhance the prospects that a moderate successor to
Rouhani will continue the long process of change.
Your colleague earlier said that I was an expert in peacebuilding. The
peacebuilding side of me recognizes that, if you have a 30-year war, it's
going to take you 30 years to really construct a viable and unbreakable
peace. We have, for most of our countries, a 35-year impasse with the
Islamic Republic, and it's going to take a long series of positive
interactions, incrementally, taking two steps ahead, one step back, in order
to improve relations. I see this sanctions legislation as two steps back
before you have any steps forward. I think you've got to put those dominos
in a better order.
So, if I were an adviser to you, particularly if I were lucky enough to
be a Canadian, I would advise Mr. Trudeau and you to continue to pursue
every channel you can to establish strong relations and say that Canada
stands behind a country that has done what no other country has done. Iran
has denuclearized and lowered the threshold of serious war in the region. We
have dramatic disagreements because of our systems, but those disagreements
now need to be aired among two powerful states that have each other's best
interests at heart.
Senator Woo: Thank you.
Senator Bovey: I want to thank you very much. I have to say that I
think your list of publications is hugely impressive, so congratulations.
I want to turn us to the Iranian people, if I may. In reading an article
that you wrote, I guess, a while ago now, it was 2010, in the Bulletin of
the Atomic Scientists, you were writing about the efficacy of Iran
sanctions at that point. You wrote:
. . . sanctions could have the opposite effect. In nations where
strong internal opposition exists, such as Iran, sanctions provide a
country's beleaguered leadership with a classic "rally around the flag''
policy tool that justifies further internal repression by blaming the
extreme economic and political emergency on sanctions.
As we sit, these few years later, I wonder how you feel about these words
that you wrote then given today's climate, specifically with regard to this
Mr. Lopez: I'll begin with my own assessment of my own country,
and then it will be almost obvious what I mean about the bill. That is that,
in executing and following through on the nuclear agreement, we took away
from a large portion of the Iranian elites and some people in the citizenry
the argument that we were the great and implacable Satan. After taking that
away with one hand, we gave portions of it back by imposing new legislation
to punish them for human rights violations and the like instead of engaging
in ways that would empower freedom of the press and increasingly great
university education in Iran and finding ways to help civil society
organization grow, which we know is the fundamental cornerstone of a
So the question for your legislation that I look at is, if you were to go
ahead with this, where is the great Canadian outreach to empower civil
society organizations that the International Development Association and
private entities in Canada have done for years elsewhere? In the absence of
that outreach and an attempt to help civil society in Iran, in an attempt to
burst the stereotypic myths that we are interested only in Iran's demise
through aggressive policy actions and economic interchange, this legislation
becomes dramatically counterproductive and, I don't think, reaches your
I don't think Mr. Rouhani becomes the rally-around-the-flag guy. He
becomes silenced, and Khamenei becomes the rally-around-the-flag. Or we have
the election of another Ahmadinejad, who clearly jumps on the soapbox and
says, "See, I told you. The Canadians, the Americans, the Brits, they don't
Senator Bovey: Thank you.
Senator Ataullahjan: My question was asked by Senator Woo, but I
also wanted to ask your opinion on whether it's better to engage in dialogue
rather than to totally withdraw. What's the possible of the Revolutionary
Guard or the all- powerful becoming even more powerful if there's nobody to
replace the senior leadership? What is the possibility of that? They take a
very hard line against the West.
Mr. Lopez: I'm not a sufficiently an Iranian expert to give as
accurate an answer as your good question deserves, but I think that, to
those of us who monitored Iranian behaviour with regard to the development
of nuclear material and discovered the incredible political reach of the
Revolutionary Guard in shipping, insurance, money laundering and various
other kinds of things, oil smuggling, none of those powerful contacts and
disposition to power have been mitigated by the nuclear agreement.
So, I think we have to walk a tight rope with the Iranians in which we
have top-level intelligence to understand ways in which the Revolutionary
Guard would be trying to undercut the policy of engagement that we would be
spawning, and at the same time, realize that domestic civilian leaders in
Iran are faced with a very strong problem in the revolution guard, if they
seek to be more liberal than Mr. Rouhani has been.
The question for engagement, for us in the West is how do we find ways to
empower an Iranian leadership that knows it has an elite, large, powerful,
economic and often criminal force engaged in activities in the region? How
do you find ways to establish civilian control of that, and have a 10 year
plan for how that happens? It's not going to happen on the basis of two
years of legislation.
The Chair: Following up on that, we have had witnesses now, but we
also had witnesses previously on Iran, at the time of the nuclear
negotiations, who indicated to us that Mr. Rouhani may have a better facade,
but that he is equally committed to, and involved in, the activity of the
previous leaders. In other words he has a modern face but he has the same
inclinations, and that the Revolutionary Guard, as Senator Ataullahjan has
said, are very key to control.
You seem to think Rouhani is leading some sort of new wave of leadership.
What do you base that on? Witnesses have told us that it won't happen, that
the elites are still in control and you cannot break that. It is not going
to happen by an election, it is not going to happen by some awareness or
awakening. How do you put so much faith in the Rouhani change when some
other people don't?
Mr. Lopez: I'm not going to hide behind my statement earlier that
I'm not an Iran expert, and I'm going to ask you to exempt the United States
from the statement I'm about to make.
Tell me a country which doesn't have, even after a free election, most of
the key elites still in place. One of the realities of modern government is
that, especially for those that consider themselves revolutionary
governments based on theocratic ideas, change comes dramatically slowly.
My experience with Iranian officials in the nuclear and defence area is
that they have far more flexibility under this ruler and were, in fact, even
able to feed information back to Khomeini as to why a nuclear deal that they
evaded any semblance of support for before was now viable in 2015, and that
the rewards would be so much better than not going there. Is it the great
Liberal breakthrough in Iran? No. Is it possible that Mr. Rouhani, like many
politicians, plays both ends against the middle, and when he has to play the
culture or religion card, he does that, particularly against the centres?
But I want to see a Rouhani who is faced with dramatic increases in
economic capability and growth because of new overtures and investitures of
the West that now work through what we know has happened in democracies. The
more economic gains that come to a population, the more they demand and
often secure political liberties.
The Chair: The Special Rapporteur of the United Nations creates a
dismal picture for human rights in Iran, and thinks that economic prosperity
will probably be somewhere in the hands of those who already have it. That's
a significant portion of the community, but it is not reaching, even with
the nuclear deal, beyond that, and all of the markers of repression are
still there. Anyone who does speak out is jailed, and we know that many
women are, in this case, and that very little has changed in the human
If you don't use a sanction lever, as you said, it has some effect for a
symbolic or otherwise movement, what lever do we use when we want to support
human rights for those who are suffering, being jailed and executed in Iran
today? What can we do, not just morally, but more than that? I mean, we have
a responsibility to the international community beyond our own borders, so
what lever would you use?
Mr. Lopez: I have great sympathy and personal affiliation with the
way you have characterized it. We cannot by and watch these kinds of things
The practical dilemma is two-fold. A state that has high economic
interaction with that leadership, and in the country, has much greater
leverage than a country which has very limited interaction. So, maybe the
policy prescription is you want to increase your economic interaction so you
later have the leverage to withhold it.
Second, if we can't influence the people who are doing the repression,
then we have to ask the question: How can we better protect, empower and
find ways to deal with those who are the targets of repression? I think that
speaks to the issue of empowering civil society, protecting religious
actors, finding ways to make it safer and more possible for Iranians who
want to leave the country right now to leave, and not exclude them in
immigration orders and the like, and dig in for a long-term 10 year plan in
which we hope we can encourage the semblances of Iranian society that look
for reform to actually get there.
We have to take an Amnesty International kind of approach or an
international Red Cross approach to visiting prisons and letting these
people know that they are not alone. We can find ways through our
journalists, educators and others to condemn the behaviour without
economically strangling the middle sectors that are trying to play a
political and economic careful game and wait for things to improve.
I worry very much about the impact of sanctions trickling down to the
very people who have the most democratic and free enterprise inclinations
and were looking for the benefits of the nuclear agreement, and it's not
coming down to them. Partly, that's because of the attitudes of the Iranian
elites, but it's partly because there are simply not enough resources
flowing into the country.
The Chair: You have indicated that both Amnesty International and
the United Nations have very little influence inside of Iran, to get into
the prisons that are closely monitored. You're saying we would do it. Are
you saying that we just continue to encourage multilateral organizations, or
do you believe there is something else we could do?
Mr. Lopez: I think the combination of multilateral organizations
and focusing on the cease-fires and peace in Syria that I hope is coming,
and finding a way to accept that Iran has played a role, both negatively,
but potentially can do so positively, for the stable reconstruction, and
hopefully the return of many Syrians, to their homeland in a protected way.
I think you find even the slightest bit of encouraging human rights
behaviour, and even if in a small needle, try to find a way to drive an
international aid truck through it, and find ways to have them take more
responsibility for some of the good intentions, they either directly or
indirectly seem to manifest.
I mean, let's face it, every repressive dictatorship that we know of has
taken a very long time to undo, and it's undone primarily by citizens within
their own country. The more we can help those citizens, the better we are
and the better they will be over the long term.
The Chair: Mr. Lopez, we have come to the end of our session.
Thank you for your perspectives on the bill, and on Iran. I hope that you
will continue to think about it.
I'm still looking for how we can help the people within Iran, as it has
been a long, long time. We have very few levers. If you have another stroke
of imagination that could lead us into something new, we seem to be having
this trade or no trade, or sanctions or no sanctions. I appreciate that you
put in the broader context of foreign policy. Perhaps we can continue to
work for the betterment for the people in Iran.
Thank you for being with us. We survived the video conference. That's the
best part of the news.
Mr. Lopez: Congratulations. Thank you so much for having me. It
was good to speak with you.
The Chair: We're going to continue the meeting now. We have one
item that we have to deal with, and it has to be done in public. In this
portion of our meeting, you will have the distributed budget.
As you recall, this started two years ago when we were going to present
our trilateral report at the invitation of the Mexican Parliament.
Unfortunately, we were not able to accomplish it as we did not receive our
funds from Internal Economy. When we finally did, unfortunately the Mexican
Parliament was not sitting, and then we had an election, and a
reconstitution of a committee, et cetera.
We left the report on the table, and with the recent events on this
continent, we reread the report and we thought it is as timely today as when
we wrote it. As you know, the steering committee recommended that that trip
continue. It will be next week. We have received the emergency funds from
the Internal Economy to allow for an expanded group to go down. Originally
the invitation came to me. I suggested it had to be at least the deputy and
myself. Then it was broadened to the steering committee. Now we have
broadened the steering committee, so there will be four senators, plus
staff, going to present our report to the Mexican Parliament next Wednesday.
That was brought to your attention previously. What we had to do — and
our clerk has done it — is that we had $9,000 in our previous budget and we
asked for a further $10,000 emergency. This is the budget for this extra
money. It has been circulated. Is there a willingness to have a motion to
adopt this supplementary budget subject to the certification of the
principle clerk of committee? He is not available.
Senator Cordy: I was going to make the motion. I didn't think
anybody travelling should probably make the motion.
The Chair: Thank you. Is there any discussion? Is it the will of
the group? Agreed?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you.
(The committee continued in camera.)