THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE
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 4:15 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
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
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 Notre Dame.
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 questions.
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
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
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 entities.
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
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
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
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 political opponents.
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
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
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
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
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
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 and respond.
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 behaviour.
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
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
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
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
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 potential bill.
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 non-repressive democracy.
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 goals.
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 care."
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
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
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
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? Yes.
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 rights picture.
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 occur.
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
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
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
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
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?