THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON
FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE
OTTAWA, Wednesday, February 15, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs
and International Trade met this day at 4:15 p.m. to examine and report on Canadian foreign policy regarding Iran, its implications,
and other related matters.
Senator Raynell Andreychuk (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign
Affairs and International Trade is continuing its examination on Canadian
foreign policy regarding Iran, its implications and other related matters. We
commenced our study last week and are continuing this evening with a panel. I
will introduce the panel very quickly. We have their CVs. They are known to have
been interested in Canadian foreign policy regarding Iran and other Iranian
Today I am pleased to have before us Dr. Houchang Hassan-Yari,
Professor and Special Assistant to the Principal for National and International
Liaison, Royal Military College of Canada; Dr. Aurel Braun, Professor of
International Relations and Political Science, Department of Political Science,
University of Toronto; and Dr. Payam Akhavan, Associate Professor, Faculty of
Law, McGill University.
I have asked our presenters to make their initial interventions
extremely short, for professors. I have said five minutes because I believe the
exchange between senators and yourselves will be the maximum benefit to us. We
will point you in the direction to gain your expertise in those directions we
are concerned with.
Houchang Hassan-Yari, Professor and Special Assistant to the
Principal for National and International Liaison, Royal Military College of
Canada, as an individual: Thank you for being interested in the situation in
Iran, although it is not an easy task.
I was asked to bring some elements of answers to a number of
questions that were raised by the clerk. The first is to talk about the current
nuclear standoff between Iran and the international community, and the impact of
that on the stability of the region. I would say that the implication of the
current standoff between Iran and the rest of the world is of great importance
for international security and regional stability. The opposing sides to this
rampant crisis have two very different views about the nature and outcome of the
Iranian nuclear program.
On the one hand, the Iranians claim in their statements that
their nuclear program is peaceful in nature; on the other hand, the Americans,
the Israelis and, to some degree, the International Atomic Energy Agency doubt
that Iranian claim. So here we are in a kind of stalemate.
I will talk mainly about the Americans now as representatives of
the international community and not much about the other countries. One can
summarize the U.S.-Iranian relations in the following terms: total lack of trust
in each other, domination of policy by ideology, and demonization of the other.
In the case of Iranians, they call Americans the great Satan, international
arrogance; the Americans call the Iranians axis of evil, a pariah state. The
other characteristic is that they both believe in a conspiracy theory. This is
why I think the situation is like this.
The second question raised was about the international community
and the response of this community — that is, the strengths and the weaknesses,
and so on.
The question that has to be asked here is who
are we talking about, what is the international community? Is there an
international community? Because, in the beginning, three European countries,
France, England and Germany, negotiated with the Iranians on behalf of the
international community. Then, when that approach failed, the Americans took the
lead. Now, these major countries include Russia and China, whose foreign policy
is quite different. To some degree, I would say, it is a foreign policy of
expediency in that they vote in favour of sanctions against Iran on the one hand
while trying to downplay the impact of the sanctions on the other.
About four groups of countries in the region are identified. The
first are the GCC countries. Without exception, they have problems with the
Iranian government. They have the potential to put their forces with the foreign
forces against Iran if they reach that point. The second group is what I call
the countries that are some distance from Iran, for example, the North African
countries. The relationship between them and Iran is not important here.
The third group of countries, or groups, are obviously Syria,
Hezbollah and Hamas. I believe those are the three countries and groups that we
have to put much emphasis and interest in. I put the Iraqi situation on the
border. I could not identify Iraq with any of the four groups that I am trying
to talk about here.
Finally, the fourth group are the Caspian basin countries in the
north of Iran. With respect to these countries, it is interesting to talk about
the good relations between Iran and the Shia regime and Armenia Christian
country, but there is a difficult relationship between Shia Iran, Shia
Azerbaijan, and so on. For the Iranians, it means that their foreign policy is,
to some extent, based on the pragmatic, realistic evaluation of the situation.
Inside this larger group we have Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Afghanistan is the country that Iran has developed a lot of interest and
influence in. Pakistan is a more problematic country for Iran. Beside the
relationship that is apparently cordial between Tehran and Islamabad, there are
serious problems in the region of Balochistan between the two countries.
Maybe I will share a word on Israel, too, since this country is
important in the region. We know what is going on in terms of the Israeli
government's posturing related to Iran, but we have to keep in mind that, in my
view, contrary to what some people in Israel believe, the Iranian leadership is
not crazy. They are not suicidal, but they are very fine calculators. It does
not mean that their calculation is always good, but they are able to put their
finger where they should and they provoke, as they do constantly, including in
the current situation.
Next, a word about Iran's domestic, political and human rights
situation. I am not going to detail what you already know about the Iranian
human rights record. As Canadians, we all know what we are doing ourselves in
that regard. I believe my colleagues will also talk about that.
On the relationship between human rights and the nuclear issue, I
would complain about the position of the international community putting much
emphasis on the nuclear issue and forgetting the question of human rights. This
is precisely what the Iranian government is looking for, namely, to distract
from the main problems that the government is facing. Actually, the threat is
coming from the internal dynamics of Iran.
Canada has lost the influence it once had in the
Middle East. We know that the region provided Canada with its golden age of
diplomacy. But gradually, particularly since Mr. Martin’s government, we are
seeing a kind of retreat, which, with the current government, is almost, maybe
not quite, but almost total. Canada is no longer a major player in the region.
But there are things that Canada can do, particularly on the Iran question. I
can mention some of those things, and we can come back to them.
On the matter of sanctions, they are not really
very smart, despite the expectations. We can say that they are affecting
everyone, especially the poorest. I am not opposed to sanctions, but I think we
should take another look and specifically come up with sanctions that have
teeth. We must try to bring some countries on board, by which I mean China and
Russia specifically, because without them, no sanction can have the desired
effect. Other countries are criticizing South Korea, and Japan to some extent,
because of oil. We can come back to the sanctions later.
The Chair: Thank you. We will now turn to Dr. Braun.
Aurel Braun, Professor of International Relations and
Political Science, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, as an
individual: Thank you, honourable senators, for inviting me. The views that
I will express here are entirely personal. I am not here as an expert on
domestic Iranian politics, and I am not here to address the various intricacies
of private rivalries among the ruling regimes, though I do differentiate rather
strongly between the long-suffering people of Iran and the repressive regime
that rules over them. My expertise is in international relations, strategic
studies and international law. This is what I write on. One of my books is
The Middle East in Global Strategy.
In my experience in writing, studying and lecturing on
international risks and behaviour, often the questions that we ask are as
important as the answers that we may provide. Consequently I will put forth five
questions and then I will make five recommendations.
The first question, which was already broached, is something that
we need to address in a sophisticated fashion rather than with a throwaway line.
Is the Iranian regime rational? We have to look at a definition of rationality.
I do not have time to go into it, but I refer you to Sidney Verba. I can tell
you that, by his standard, the Iranian regime does not meet the standard of
rationality — of maximizing options, of looking at all the facts and so on. We
know this is a regime that is genocidal. It very clearly advocates genocide; we
know all statements that have been made — Holocaust denial, eradication of
Israel, designation of Israel as a cancer, et cetera. It would be a huge mistake
to reduce this to an Iranian-Israeli issue because it is a global issue. I can
also point out, in terms of rational behaviour by the standards of Sidney
Verba — the normal standards in international relations — Iran's behaviour in
1979 and in 2001. Iran engaged in the most wanton and reckless disregard of
international norms with the invasion of embassies, which was condoned by the
government. This strikes at the very heart of being able to conduct peaceful
negotiations and to have normal intercourse. It goes back to ancient times, to
the protection of the messenger. It is customary international law and
convention law, in the Vienna Convention of 1961. By that standard, I think it
is very difficult to talk about normal rationality.
Is it the same as suggesting that the Iranian government is
irrational? I would say no. That is something that we have to be very careful
with. If we are talking about irrationality in the sense of non compos mentis —
unable to distinguish between right and wrong — that is not the case with this
regime. It is rather that they judge right and wrong differently than other
states. They come to rationality in a different way. Within their own paradigm,
they are rational, but this is the paradigm that is driven by extreme
theological logic. That is different from democracy in other countries. It is a
regime that thinks in a fundamentally different fashion. It disregards
international laws and norms because it believes that it is responding to a
higher authority, so it has license to do the kind of things that, within its
other paradigm of rationality, it is able to do.
This takes us to the next question: Can deterrence work? Often,
apologists for Iran or people who do not spend a lot of time thinking about the
problem, sadly, will say, “Well, we have deterrence. Why can you not look at
deterrence in the case of Iran?” Well, deterrence is, above all, a psychological
relationship that involves a mutual mind reading. One party is trying to induce
the other to perform the same kind of cost-benefit calculation that it itself
would do and come to a conclusion that the risks and the costs would outweigh
You have to operate on the same basis of rationality. It is not
rational or irrational, but it has to be the same basis of rationality. Mutually
assured destruction cannot work when one of the parties believes that its
ultimate goals are not temporal.
This takes us to the next question: Can the deterrence that was
used during the Cold War provide a useful analogy? I suggest that it is a
tempting analogy, but, ultimately, it is dangerously wrongheaded.
First, deterrence was not all that wonderful during the Cold War.
It was very risky. Research done by people like J. David Singer has shown that —
and I will quote briefly from J. David Singer — “the world may have escaped
nuclear devastation by sheer luck — less a consequence of intelligent policy
than a fortunate concatenation of conditions.”
There is something else very important. The Soviet leadership was
driven by an ideological imperative that pivoted on the victory of the
proletariat here on earth, not in heaven. The Soviet Union, consequently, could
not achieve its ideological goals if there was a nuclear holocaust. It is
something else when you are looking at a regime that believes there might be
other ways of achieving its goals. On the one hand, in the Cold War with the
Soviet Union, we had ideological constraints. On the other hand, when we have an
extreme theology, we have theological licence. We had better be aware of that.
What are the risks of a nuclear Iran? No one can say with
certainty that this genocidal regime, which openly advocates genocide, will use
nuclear weapons if and when it acquires them. However, I challenge anyone to be
able to provide any assurance that it will not. This is the gamble. This is what
we have to look at. Given the theological licence, a belief that the ultimate
reward is in heaven, that the destruction of the Great Satan and the Little
Satan can yield benefits, can there be a comfort level that if Iran develops a
capacity to carry out its ideological goals it will not do so?
Do we feel lucky? Do we want to gamble? Is it ethical and moral
for the international community to engage in that kind of gamble?
Then there is this distinction that is a distinction without a
difference. Again, it is rather dangerous. It is this: What if Iran develops a
capacity to build nuclear weapons but does not actually build them? This is one
way of basically giving Iran just about all it wants. It has the surge capacity
to do so. It is a distinction without a difference. It is a new subterfuge to
allow Iran to get to the nuclear destination while minimizing the risks of
international action to prevent them from doing so.
Should the military option be taken off the table? No rational
individual seeks war. Any military action, anytime, anywhere is risky. We do not
know what happens. I would strongly advocate that we avoid military action at
all costs. It ought to be a last resort, but, as the Nobel Laureate Robert
Aumann said, war itself is not irrational. Self-defence is a reality. It is
allowed in international law and by the United Nations. Not only that, but
international law has been moving in the direction of the principle of
“responsibility to protect,” or R2P, to protect against genocide. Recently,
Canada has participated in military action in Kosovo and Libya, and contrary to
what some try to say, what some old diplomats bloviate, Canada is highly
respected around the world. I travel everywhere; we have never been more highly
respected. We have been influential when it came to Libya and elsewhere. They
called on Canada, not on Belgium or Portugal, so let us have a reality check.
We have rights and responsibilities. In taking the military
option off the table, we would be voluntarily forgoing both our rights and our
responsibilities under international law and would grant a genocidal regime
What are my recommendations? First, both Canada and Iran are
parties to the Genocide Convention, ratified in 1952 and 1956 respectively. We
are bound by it. When the leaders of Iran, Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, advocate
genocide — and they do repeatedly — the incitement to genocide is punishable. We
should call them on it. We can ask the Iranian government to act against them;
they are not likely to do it. We can go to UN Security Council, and we have a
right to ask that they refer this to the International Criminal Court. I suspect
Russia may veto that, but we can directly take these two gentlemen, and the
others in the regime, to the International Court of Justice, if nothing is done
in the criminal court. We should do so.
Second, there has to be a regime change. There is no negotiating
with a regime that has consistently negotiated in bad faith. We should encourage
opposition groups. One of these groups that we should look at is the People's
Mojahedin Organization of Iran, PMOI.
The Europeans have taken this organization off of the terrorist
list. That does not mean Canada should. We need to do our own investigation. We
are not bound by anyone; we work independently. If we come to the conclusion
that they definitely are not, or are no longer, terrorists, we should help this
organization. We might even offer some refugee resettlement for some of them.
We should take steps in Canada — and we can do this ourselves —
to allow Iran to be sued civilly for torture, for crimes against humanity, for
genocide and for incitement to genocide. The State Immunity Act, before
Parliament as part of the omnibus Bill C-10 is very useful. It talks about
torture, but we should broaden this to include all the other offences. We can do
that, and we should definitely move in that direction.
Sanctions should be sharply increased. The areas in which we have
to do more are banking, flows of money, sales of oil and natural gas, and air
travel. The sanctions need to be designed to drastically undermine the ability
of a genocidal Iranian regime, to bribe its key supporters, and to indicate to
the public at large that this regime has lost all international legitimacy.
Number five, again, is looking at the military option as a very
last option. However, it should definitely and visibly be kept on the table.
Canada and her allies must make it clear that under no circumstances will Iran
be allowed to develop a capacity to build or deploy nuclear weapons. Thank you.
Payam Akhavan, Associate Professor, Faculty
of Law, McGill University: Madam Chair, thank you
for the invitation. It is a great pleasure for me today to share some thoughts
with you about the future of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Middle East.
For the past decade I have maintained that a lasting peace in the
Middle East can come about only with a democratic transformation of Iran. This
view is shared by many in the Iranian human rights movement, but today it
contends with the looming threat of war, foreshadowing a catastrophe that could
set back the region for many years. In this light, how can we best understand
the context within which Canada must craft a just and effective foreign policy
Prior to the rise of Iran's green movement of 2009, pundits and
analysts ridiculed us for suggesting that an emerging civil society would
profoundly reshape the Middle East. While we labour to educate students in
Gandhian philosophy or to train them in non-violent resistance at secret
workshops, those in the corridors of power considered only two options: war or
appeasement. When millions of Iranians poured into the streets calling for
democracy, the post-9/11 image of a clash of civilizations with Islamic fanatics
and suicide bombers was confronted with a radically different reality. While
President Ahmadinejad distracted the world with his Holocaust denial and hate
mongering, the Iranian people exposed the other veiled face of their country: a
youthful, idealistic and inspiring generation engaged in a heroic struggle to
reclaim its lost humanity. It was this unprecedented Twitter revolution that
became the prototype of the Arab Spring two years later. The difference was that
after 30 years of suffering totalitarianism masquerading as religion, Iranians
had arrived at a post-ideological, post-utopian ethos with human rights as their
unifying objective. Despite brutal repression, this movement represented a
seismic shift that seriously undermined the legitimacy and future prospects of
the Islamic republic.
With the exclusion of Islamic reformists, the prospect of gradual
change within the existing system has become increasingly remote. Iran has
become a mercantile-militaristic state, more a kleptocracy than a theocracy,
intensifying the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of regime
enforcers: the IRGC revolutionary guards. This radicalization is reflected in
the dramatic increase of show trials and hate propaganda, widespread
imprisonment and torture of dissidents, and an alarming rate of executions.
According to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, there were at least 59
executions in January of this year alone. The picture that emerges is that of a
regime terrorizing its citizens for want of power, a regime that is weak and
fighting for its survival.
Now for long we argued that sanctions in view of this dual nature
of Iran must be focused at variously empowering the democratic movement in Iran
while also isolating the leadership. To the extent that sanctions achieve that
objective, they are to be commended. You can imagine, when we were lobbying for
years to impose travel bans and asset freezes on leaders responsible for crimes
against humanity, our shock and horror to find that the head of the Iranian
National Bank, Mr. Mahmoud Reza Khavari,
had obtained Canadian citizenship in 2005, and that the man who was the
financial lynchpin for the IRGC, for Hamas, for Hezbollah, for Iran's ballistic
missile and nuclear program was allowed to operate freely from Canada.
For too long Canada has been a haven for the ill-gotten gains of
these elites, and in a sense, it is about time that we clean up our act. However
we must bear in mind the extent that these sanctions hurt ordinary Iranians.
When students at my university cannot pay their tuition fees, then it makes us
have to reconsider whether any adjustments have to be made to the sanctions
regime in order to ensure we were not hurting the people that are now being
Another issue we need to consider is our immigration policy.
While our diplomats are struggling to avoid the execution of Mr. Hamid Ghassemi-Shall and Mr. Saeed Malekpour in Iran, we are
about to deport Mr. Kavoos Soofi, who, according to Amnesty International, faces
substantial risk of torture and execution. If we are serious that Iran is a
violator of human rights, surely we cannot countenance the deportation of
individuals who face such peril.
I would like to now come to what is the most pressing issue
today, which is the talk of war and the nuclear question. Like the vast majority
of Iranian Canadians, I am against a military confrontation because of its
impact on innocent civilians and its unpredictable consequences, including
sectarian violence throughout the region. Consider, for instance, the 2006 study
in the reputable Lancet Survey medical journal putting the number of
excess civilian deaths in the Iraq War at 650,000. That is the real face of war
that we have to be aware of. Beyond humanitarian considerations, allow me to
explain why even talk of war is such a bad idea by looking at the current
situation through the logic of the Islamic republic's leadership. First, the
green movement — the democratic uprising of 2009 — has dealt a serious blow to
the legitimacy of the regime and remains a threat.
Second, the power struggle between Supreme Leader Ayatollah
Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad is reaching a point of crisis. Third, the
sole regional ally — the murderous Assad regime in Syria — is facing collapse
and with it the capacity to send weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Fourth, Hamas
has been lured out of Iran's orbit by Turkey and Qatar. Fifth, economic
sanctions are taking a heavy toll on the regime's finances.
Under such dire circumstances, what is the only thing that can
save the leadership? The answer is war with Israel and America. It is the one
thing that can rally the masses behind the leadership and, under the cover of
war, provide an opportunity for mass execution of thousands of opponents,
exactly reminding us of the atrocities that were justified in the 1980s under
the pretext of the Iran-Iraq War.
According to experts, a military attack will at best delay the
acquisition of nuclear capability by two years, whereas the democratic movement
would be set back by at least a decade. It cannot be disregarded that the
problem is the nature of the regime rather than nuclear capability. Consider,
for instance, how in the 1980s the newly established democracies in Argentina
and Brazil dismantled the nuclear programs pursued by prior military regimes. In
this context, talk of war is exactly the distraction that the regime needs to
bolster itself at a time of weakness and vulnerability.
It is useful to recall the situation after the September 11
terrorist attacks when the reformist Khatami government played a crucial role in
helping the Americans defeat the Taliban. After the overthrow of the Saddam
Hussein regime, the talk of war effectively marginalized the reformists and
played into the hands of the hard-liners. The same reality applies today.
On the one hand, there is no doubt that nuclear proliferation
would destabilize the balance of power in the Middle East and lead to an arms
race. However, by buying into the Islamic republic's inflammatory apocalyptic
rhetoric with alarmist rhetoric of our own — namely, the suggestion that Iran
intends to use nuclear weapons in a suicidal attack against Israel — we are
giving the regime the enemy it needs to survive. By invoking Armageddon, we are
throwing the hard-liners a lifeline just as they are finally drowning in the
morass of treachery that is of their own making.
Finally I want to remark that it cannot go unnoticed that even
the likes of ex-Mossad director Meir Dagan and former Israeli Defence Forces
chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi have serious misgivings about the wisdom of war.
In the words of Yossi Alpher, Defence Minister Barak's former senior adviser, there is an “obvious disagreement” on Iran between hawkish elements
and “a more cautious and less alarmist camp that comprises much of the
professional security community.” Now is a time that our leaders should avoid
the politics of fear, lest it lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy with
The Chair: Thank you. I asked for short interventions to
start. In fairness, Dr. Hassan-Yari, you were first and you were extremely
short. Would you like to add anything at this time?
Mr. Hassan-Yari: No. I would prefer to have an exchange
with the audience.
The Chair: Thank you. I have a list starting with Senator
Senator D. Smith: Thank you, chair. I have three fairly
short questions. What I might do is just read them out and you may jot them
down. You can then reply to any or to all of them, if you wish.
The first one is the big news this morning that Iran was cutting
off oil sales to about six European countries, including several major ones. My
initial reaction was that they have come to the conclusion that these sanctions
are really going to work with the European community. Rather than have them
formally do it, they are just going to say, “We are not selling anymore.” Maybe
they think that saves face a bit. I do not know. I would be interested if you
have a reaction on that.
The next one, which I think Professor Hassan-Yari mentioned, is
that the Iranian leadership are not crazy but they are very fine calculators.
Take a litmus paper test, for example. When Prime Minister Ahmadinejad — I am
never sure if I am pronouncing it accurately — says that the Holocaust never
happened and all these other things, and if he does not believe that, then, from
my perspective, he is a bit crazy. The evidence is so overwhelming. Do you think
they really believe those statements — there are others who make the same
statements — or is this just inflammatory rhetoric to keep the most extreme
elements within their community sort of onside? Are they just lying because they
know it did happen? What is your reaction to that?
My last question would be, when we talk about military action,
whether it is like the fly zone that was initiated in Libya, not the troops on
the ground: Is there a scenario that you think actually would warrant some type
of military action by the West or by NATO countries or by whatever group? Is
there a scenario where they go so far that there is no choice? What would that
Those are the questions. I tried to give them all at once and
then let them respond.
The Chair: We have three questions and three speakers.
Senator D. Smith: They do not have to all answer all of
Mr. Hassan-Yari: In regard to the oil issue, there was a
lot of pressure coming from inside government to do something. It was a
reactionary policy. The Iranians did not initiate that; they do not have that
In order to tell the national audience that they are doing
something, they sell it. In other words, when it became absolutely clear at the
end of January that the EU decided to do it, instead of waiting until July, they
Why did they do it? This is part of the whole show, in my view,
of the Iranian regime to re-establish itself. In other words, the Iranian
government is not in a position to take initiative but is forced to react. They
are looking for other countries to replace the Europeans. That is why it seems
to be that there are negotiations with Indians, for example, and with other
countries to reduce the price in order to keep the market. This is why I quickly
talked about the necessity to look at the oil issue more seriously.
On whether or not the leadership is crazy and on the Ahmadinejad
Holocaust declaration, and so forth, one thing is absolutely clear: the Islamic
Republic of Iran, since its inception, does not recognize the existence of
Israel. For them, Israel is a council in the region. It is a creation of
imperialism, colonialism and all of those things. During the time that Khamenei
initiated the whole idea, he did nothing himself during his time to implement
what he said. Suddenly, after so many years, Ahmadinejad — and I believe he came
to power just six years ago — recreated the whole issue.
We must understand that Ahmadinejad is a very flamboyant
personality. He talks and then he thinks about the issues. That is the reality.
He is not calculated to say what is going to be the consequence of what he is
saying. I am not excusing him, obviously, but we should not think that what he
says is absolutely in line with what others say in the regime, even if they
believe in it and are thinking about that.
Senator D. Smith: Do you think he believes that the
Holocaust never happens? Do you think he really believes that?
Mr. Hassan-Yari: He believes that it did not happen, yes.
You can call him crazy. For himself, he is not crazy. This is the point that my
colleague raised here about rationality and who is rational, and so on. It makes
a lot of sense. I am against what he says, but it does not mean that he does not
think that he, in his own view, is irrational. Obviously, we can be against what
Finally, what scenario could trigger a war? A lot of them could.
One of the most obvious ones would be not necessarily directly related to the
nuclear issue. It could be the threat — and some people in the Iranian
leadership were talking about civilians in the past few months — against the
Strait of Hormuz. That could create a reaction from the Americans as the
Americans already mentioned that this is their red line.
Contrary to what some people in Iran believe, namely that
everything is going to be limited to the Strait of Hormuz or to the Persian Gulf
itself and to the body of water there, I believe that if that happens, it is
going to be a total war. That is, we will see attacks against nuclear
installation in Iran and the enlargement of the war by bringing in a number of
Arab countries in the region. In other words, we will see a situation that we
have never, ever seen in the past, including if you go back to 1956, 1967, 1973,
the Arab-Israeli conflict, and so forth. We never, ever saw the magnitude of the
situation that potentially will occur in the Persian Gulf region and that is
going to be with us for many, many years to come.
I am not one of those who believe that the Strait of Hormuz is
going to stay closed and then the price of oil is going to be extremely high for
a long period of time. I do not think it will happen that way. Nevertheless, the
war is going to be extremely important. The war is going to cause damage for the
Western countries in Iran because the coup d'état that happened in 1953 against
the nationalist government continues to be raised by many Iranians, even those
who are pro-Western and who are educated in the Western countries and who are
against the Mullahs in power in Tehran.
The Chair: There were two other questions. Dr. Braun?
Mr. Braun: Thank you for those three questions. Let me
start with the first one, namely the news that the Iranians are diverting oil
from Europe and how this relates to sanctions.
We often misunderstand how sanctions work. Historically,
sanctions have not worked well. There are a few exceptions when they have had
significant effect, and that was in South Africa.
We have been experimenting. Social scientists need to write, and
we love language. We talk about smart sanctions, but there are no smart
sanctions. Sanctions are a very blunt instrument. They are messy. There is a
tremendous amount of collateral damage. People tell you to change sanctions to
this and to that, refine them. They mean well, but it cannot be done. It will
hurt. The people of South Africa knew that, and that is why they said, “Yes,
have sanctions because the Apartheid regime must be ended at all costs.” When we
talk about sanctions against the Iranian regime, it will be a very messy
picture. We can try to make it better in some ways, but it is not going to be
perfect. However, it is something that is necessary if we have a hope of
avoiding military action.
Are the leaders crazy? I would argue that they are not. They are
not non compos mentis, but they operate within a certain paradigm where
there is a perverse logic. They have been rather successful in keeping control.
I am very saddened to hear words like, “Ahmadinejad is
flamboyant.” He is not flamboyant. He is a genocidal leader. He says what he
intends to do, and so does the Ayatollah Khamenei. This is a regime that has
brutalized its own people and killed vast numbers of them. Do we have any doubt
that they would hesitate to eliminate Little Satan or Great Satan if they had
that capacity? Can we have any assurance of that? As for the notion that they
are reactive, this is a standard apologia for dictators historically. They are
not reactive. They have an agenda. They know what they are doing. They are
within that particular paradigm.
Let us not get into this kind of notion of moral equivalence.
Democracies are not perfect; they are flawed, but they are not to be compared to
totalitarian theologies. We have to recognize that we have a leadership in Iran
that has been successful in staying in power for a long time. The development in
civil society — the green revolution — was not successful. It is not the same
situation as in Egypt and elsewhere because the mechanisms of control are vastly
better. They have those mechanisms of control not because of an external threat
but because they happen to be very good at it and because the opposition has not
been sufficiently good at it.
When I listen to dissidents in the diaspora who would like to see
this regime overthrown, they are generally very good people, very noble
individuals. However, I sometimes wonder whether they appreciate the fact that a
nuclear Iran would be the best guarantee for this regime to stay in power.
If this regime goes nuclear, it is not just threatening others.
Do not talk just about Israel. I came back from Eastern Europe, and they are
deploying anti-ballistic missiles. This is not because they fear Russia; they
made that very clear. Poland, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic fear Iran.
Boris Nemtsov, one of the key leaders of the opposition in Russia, was here, and
he said that a nuclear Iran is a direct threat to Russia, and at all costs we
must make sure there is no nuclear Iran. A nuclear Iran would be something like
North Korea. That regime would have international immunity. Those who think that
somehow we can go easy on this and can look on nuclearization in Iran as some
sort of diversion away from domestic politics, rather than looking at an
integrated approach with those who want to see regime change, should be aware
that one of the best ways this regime can prevent that is to go nuclear.
The third question is about military action. It is always risky.
We can cherry-pick some Israelis and misinterpret what they said because they
never said that there should be no military option by the United States or by
the international community. We have to look at bad alternatives. A military
option is a very bad alternative. A nuclear Iran is the worst alternative.
It is not as if we have the luxury of picking. Somebody says,
“Well, you know, you could only stop it for two years.” I am not sure how they
found that information. I would love to be given the evidence. No one knows, so
who are we kidding here? If it was two years, a lot happens in two years. Maybe
in those two years the regime would change. If you have a nuclear Iran, with
this regime, would anyone in the international community dare to really
challenge them? If this regime engages in the bloodiest suppression
domestically, would anyone in the international community stand up to this
The Chair: Thank you, Dr. Braun.
Mr. Akhavan: Well, if there is a country with nuclear
capability that we should be worried about, let us look at Pakistan. It is a
country that, by many measures, is a semi-failed state. It has a long-standing
collaboration with the Taliban, with the blessing of the Americans during the
years of the Soviet occupation.
Is it a problem that Iran could acquire nuclear capability?
Absolutely. It would destabilize the entire region, but the point is that many
well-informed observers have serious doubts about whether there is a viable
military solution, whether a military solution can, in effect, neutralize the
program. We have to understand that, no matter how people plan, the consequences
are going to be unpredictable. Do we remember President George W. Bush standing
on the aircraft carrier saying “Mission accomplished”? Well, 650,000 deaths
later, we have to understand the reality of the people in Iraq, and we have to
understand that you cannot just sanitize things through abstract ideological
The point here is that we have to understand the dynamics. When
we talk, for example, about Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial, I was part of the
group of Iranian intellectuals that vigorously condemned this sort of incitement
to hatred. We signed a letter and have spoken out about what we consider to be
4,000 years of Jewish history in our country, going back to the earliest
biblical times. However, we have to understand that the issue is not just about
Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad is not Adolf Hitler, even if he wishes he could be. He
does not have that power. Ahmadinejad is in an intense power struggle with
Ayatollah Khamenei, and both of them are dealing with the country in which their
grip on power is slipping. That is the reality. Therefore, this is not Nazi
Germany, not because I do not think elements of the regime are evil, but because
we cannot, in assessing how to deal with them, give them more credibility and
power than they deserve.
The relationship between Iran and Israel is important to
understand because, while Ayatollah Khomeini was saying “Wipe Israel off the
map” — it was his statement that Ahmadinejad echoed — Iran was engaged in a war
with Iraq in which Israel was selling weapons to Iran. Iran was enthusiastically
accepting them, but then denying it. The United States and the Europeans were
selling weapons to Saddam Hussein as he bombed Iranian cities and committed
genocide against the Iraqi Kurds. We have to look back at an appallingly cynical
past — in which we also bear responsibility — to understand where things are
When we gravitate towards the point of ideological constructions
that do not appreciate the context, the reality, and the unpredictable
consequences, then we pave the way for a situation that should end up being far
worse than what we have today. We have to understand that if certain groups that
people are encouraging today end up in power in Iran, we could end up with the
Khmer Rouge running the country. All I am saying here is that the sanctions
regime has really been tightened only recently. It is too late; I would say that
we should have done this much earlier.
Now is not the time to create a situation that is so explosive
that just one spark could result in an explosion in the region. Then, we could
be sitting here, two years from now, with a country fractured in a
Yugoslav-style scenario, with 10 years of instability and terrorism in the
region. We would be thinking, “What if we had waited a bit longer? What if we
had considered the alternatives?”
The Chair: Thank you. I have to —
Mr. Akhavan: Yes, I will end there.
The Chair: We have too many questioners. I had invited an
answer to only one question. That process did not work, so now I am going to
appeal to my senators. Please direct a question to a particular speaker. Can we
be efficient in our questions and direct them to a particular professor?
Hopefully we will get crisper answers and can get everyone in. Thank you.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Thank you, Madam Chair. First, Professor Akhavan, Professor Braun and
Professor Hassan-Yari, I would like to say how pleased I am to hear your
perspectives on Iran and the things that are going on there.
Because I already know Professor Akhavan’s view,
my question goes to Professor Braun or Professor Hassan-Yari. I know that
tensions between Iran and Israel are at a high point at the moment. The day
after the attacks on Israeli embassies in India and Georgia, there were also
explosions in a residential area of Bangkok and a man, probably but not
definitely an Iranian, was wounded in those attacks. The government of Israel
immediately linked those events to the attacks the day before and pointed the
finger at Iran.
On Monday, the Netanyahu government blamed Iran
for the bomb attacks in New Delhi and Tblisi that wounded four people, including
a 42-year-old diplomat. The Israeli government sees the hand either of the
Ahmadinejad regime or of Hezbollah, which Tehran denies. I can quote the head of
the Israeli government as saying that Iran is the source of the attacks, and, in
fact, that it is the world’s biggest exporter of terrorism.
This is my question: is Israel’s cold war with
Iran getting hotter? I would like to hear more about that; you certainly
mentioned the subject, but you skipped over it. Could you tell us what you
think, Mr. Braun?
Mr. Braun: One issue I cautioned was to reduce this
discussion to an Israel-Iran conflict. Not only do we get into the swamp of the
most volatile conflicts and debates in the Middle East, but it distorts the fact
that the Iranian regime is viewed as an international threat, not just as a
regional one. This is why I mention the view of Russian democrats and those from
the East European states, or the fact that the United States finds Iran to be
the primary supporter of terrorism around the world. Consequently, if we reduce
it to merely a bilateral kind of conflict, this is to say a plague on both their
houses, and these countries have leadership that we may or may not like
depending on one's political perspective, we will lose what is at stake here.
What is happening domestically in Iran cannot be divorced from what is happening
in the region and internationally. What is happening domestically in Iran cannot
be divorced from the nuclearization precisely because of what I said before. The
best way for this regime to stay in power is to go nuclear. There are all these
notions about why do we not wait a little longer until they get nuclear weapons
or how long should people wait. I have talked to quite a number of opposition
leaders, and they do not want to wait any longer. They fear what this regime is
doing and this notion that it could be worse, the standard kind of excuse. Harry
Truman was going to go to Moscow to rescue Stalin from the hard-liners in the
Kremlin; these are the hard-liners in Iran. These are the people. These are the
Pol Pots in a sense, and they will have far more licence if they go nuclear.
I would urge that we think of this is an international issue with
domestic repercussions. There is as an Israel-Iranian dimension. However, it is
but one dimension in something far larger that concerns us in Canada as a
democracy. It concerns us as a member of NATO, where we have obligations to our
NATO allies in Eastern Europe; and it concerns us as a country that has a
tremendous amount of international respect and that has historically stood up
for the rights of others. We have fought, and we invested lives and treasure for
principles, and these are principles we ought to be proud of.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: I have a quick question on another topic. Do you think that the Arab
spring that occurred in other countries in North Africa could have had, could
still have, or will be able to have an impact on the leadership and authority of
President Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei?
Mr. Hassan-Yari: After a long hesitation, because he did not know what to say, the
Iranian leader tried to take credit for what went on in those Arab countries.
After that hesitation, he claimed that what is being seen now in Arab countries
is the impact of the Iranian revolution in 1979. It is why dictators are falling
one after the other. However, you can see the contradiction between his words
and the reality on the ground. At the same time as he praises the Tunisians, the
Egyptians and the others for what they have done, he criticizes the opponents of
the Assad regime in Syria, simply because that regime is his only Arab ally in
the entire Middle East, with the exception of Iraq. That is why I would call it
the “Arab awakening” rather than the “Arab spring”.
What this Arab awakening has done, in fact, is
to expose even more the contradictions faced by the leadership of the Iranian
revolution, which does not know what to say or who to say it to. As to the
impact of those revolutions on the internal situation in Iran; yes, there is
one. Just like others learned from the Iranian revolution in 1979 and the
post-election turmoil of 2009, the Iranians are in the process of learning from
other countries in the region.
So it is a dynamic situation during which and in
which views are exchanged. But the Islamic regime’s attempt to claim credit has
come up against a wall that has proved very difficult to get over. In Tunisia,
for example, the claim was that the model for the Tunisia of the future was not
the Iranian revolution, it was Turkey. In Egypt, when the Islamic Brotherhood
announced that they were not going to replicate the example of Iran, it means
that they are distancing themselves, despite the fact that Iran is inviting them
to visit the country.
The Arab spring came along at a very bad time
for the Islamic republic and the Islamic leadership. As mentioned earlier, I
would not put a lot of weight on Ahmadinejad’s personality. This is because, in
Iran’s power structure, the president has no power, except to speak. His power
is very restricted, to some specific internal areas. The rest of the decisions
are not made by him, they are made by the leader.
Let me end by saying that I am not an apologist
for the Islamic Republic and I find my colleague’s comment to that effect to be
a serious accusation. We are here to give testimony about a situation, to talk
about our expertise, and our knowledge of the region. We are not here to accuse
each other or to be apologists for the regime.
Senator Wallin: Thank you. Dr. Braun is an old friend, so
I will put the question there. I liked your five pints very much in terms of
framing the debate for us and your views on the military option being on the
That said, given the nature of the weapons of mass destruction
debate in the United States around Iraq, and the fact that the president seems
to be distancing himself from a traditional relationship with Israel, does this
not circumscribe the U.S. response? Or maybe they are not actually even looking
at this issue as clearly as they might have?
Mr. Braun: It is a difficult situation because any
military action by anyone is risky. I want to make it very clear that I am not
here advocating a military response. I would like to see Iran have a regime
change and Iran not develop nuclear weapons, certainly not under this regime,
without having any kind of military action. If the Obama administration is
trying to avoid military action by using other means, that is not necessarily a
bad step as long as there is a recognition that at some point this becomes an
issue for the entire international system where, if sanctions do not work
sufficiently, you will face a situation that Iran goes nuclear.
Would the American government be willing to act at that point?
There are those in the administration who believe that at that stage President
Obama would make a decision that they have no choice but to act. He has said
repeatedly that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. In fact, even Vladimir Putin
said that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable — except in the case of Russians, they
have an idea of withdrawing at the last moment, which does not work well in any
situation of whatever help they give Iran.
The question now is how close is Iran getting? No one is certain.
What kind of tools are they using? The wise approach to any situation like this
is to use every possible tool that you have. The military instrument is not an
illegitimate tool; it is something that is acceptable in international law under
certain circumstances. We have moved into Libya, and Canada took a leading role.
The commander of the forces was a Canadian.
Senator Wallin: America did not.
Mr. Braun: They led from behind. They supplied the
logistics. President Obama, in a sense, was lucky that it turned out that way.
Senator Wallin: All I am suggesting is that all this has
been muted because of the politics around weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Braun: It has been made more difficult. However, more
and more countries are getting very concerned by what is happening in Iran. If
you look at the reaction of President Sarkozy and at the reaction of the
British, they are becoming profoundly alarmed by the prospect of Iran going
nuclear. To use Richard Clarke's phrase, the Iranian diaspora should have their
hair on fire at the prospect of this regime acquiring nuclear weapons. There
would be no way of dislodging this regime.
Senator Nolin: I
just have one comment followed by a question. A number of us have been following
NATO activities for several years. I have to tell you, Professor Braun, that it
was not just yesterday that European countries started worrying about what is
going on in Iran. The discussion on the missile-defence shield has been going on
for seven or eight years inside NATO, and we certainly have discussions with the
I will direct my question to Professor
Hassan-Yari. Are we not falling into the trap that Professor Akhavan mentioned
to us? I would like to hear your opinion, because, in order to do our work
properly, we have to be in a position to be able to grasp the cultural nuances
of the administration of the Iranian regime so that we do not fall into the trap
that Professor Akhavan is pointing out to us.
There is an electoral dynamic. There is a desire
to hold onto power, and the recent presidential elections have shown that there
can be demonstrations of popular opposition. Professor Hassan-Yari, what can we
do so that we are not taken in, but so that our actions, including those
mentioned by Professor Braun, are useful and logical for Canada and within
Canada’s power, but are not seen as promoting provocation? You all have espoused
that point of view, I think. We have to avoid provocation. On the other hand,
our actions have to be shrewd and effective.
Mr. Hassan-Yari: That is an excellent question. Culture is of huge importance in this
kind of situation. Anthropologists will line up to tell us how big a mistake we
can make by watching what other people are doing.
History is filled with mistakes that have caused disasters.
Mr. Hassan-Yari: Absolutely, all the more so because we are talking about a country
that has a very long history and is extremely complex at the same time.
An Iranian colleague of mine compares the
situation we are talking about to a Persian carpet that is extremely intricate,
where many threads intertwine in order to bring out the design, and so on.
What we can do, as a member of the international
community, is to remain vigilant to what the Iranian regime is doing both
internally and externally. Internally, we must not close our eyes, as we have
unfortunately done for decades, to the atrocities that the regime is committing
today in almost all regions of the country. That is, with the Arabs, in
Kurdistan, and between the Shiites and the Sunnis in religious terms.
For this regime, there is no immunity. So
everyone is suspect until they prove that they stand with the regime. The regime
even goes beyond that. There is a joke in Iran that there is an open file on
every Iranian in the country. It means the regime is under an enormous amount of
pressure both internally and externally and that is why we see the mistakes it
is making, inside the country in particular.
Clearly, with the coming elections, we are going
to know a little more about the direction in which things will go, not just in
Parliament, because it goes beyond Parliament. This is about a struggle. It is a
about a struggle between two camps that are becoming more and more defined.
On one side, there is the leader continuing to
hold onto the essential elements of power, and on the other side, there are
newcomers looking for power. Between the two, we also have to deal with
Ayatollah Khamenei’s illness and with his son being groomed to succeed him.
What can the international community do? As an
example, Canada has to stick to the matter of human rights, to condemn
violations and to revisit the matter of sanctions against the leaders, the
government officials travelling around the world with their propaganda. That is
something practical we can do.
Third element, you will see in the paper when
you get it, the Canadian government must also stay consistent on the question of
immigration. I recall the case my colleague mentioned. We cannot say that the
government of Iran violates human rights while, at the same time, we are trying
to deport someone in Toronto who is fighting against the same regime we are
That is a clear contradiction. Another thing is
to never even think of closing the embassy in Tehran. Never; that is exactly
what the Islamic regime is looking for. If they could, they would build a wall
around Iran so there was no contact with the outside world. That is exactly what
the regime in Iran wants. So we must not admit the possibility, by reducing the
diplomatic staff at the embassy, and so on.
Those are the measures I see. Even when talking
about sanctions, the Canadian government can consult the Iranian community in
Canada, people either for or against the regime, in order to get a more precise
idea of what is happening in Iran. You can find out a lot of things, even from
those who support the regime, and certainly from those who oppose it.
Canadian policy must be looked at again in order
to come up with a course of action that is a little more meaningful. Another
thing that the Canadian government can do, together with the Americans, the
French, the English and so on, is to put serious pressure on the Chinese and the
Russians to stop supporting a regime that represses everyone intellectually and
physically, not only Iranians, but also people from elsewhere. I am not sure if
you have heard recently about the death threats against the woman who won the
Nobel Prize and against other intellectuals in Europe and elsewhere.
So we have to come to grips with our
responsibility in the face of this deplorable situation in a country with which,
whatever they say or do, we maintain relations. There are thousands of Iranians
here. Besides, we cannot just close our eyes to a country as old as time because
of a repressive regime that, one way or another, will disappear.
Speaking of knowing the culture, this week the defence committee heard from
General Bouchard, who led the NATO forces against Libya. One of the tools they
used to great effect was precisely having people who were properly equipped to
understand the cultural dynamics of what was going on in Libya. That was a major
tool in the operation.
Professor Braun, I would like to use your
testimony to ask Professor Akhavan a question. Professor Braun made the
suggestion that we should look at Bill C-10. We have a bill before us that
certainly has a number of parts, but one of them deals with the accountability
and criminality of States.
Professor Braun referred to it. Do you think
that is it is one of the tools that the Canadian government could use to
demonstrate its vigorous opposition to the actions of the government of Iran?
Mr. Akhavan: This is a project we have been working on for
quite a few years. In 2004 in New Haven we established the Iran Human Rights
Documentation Center, exactly for the purpose of documenting the crimes of the
regime. Through a listserv of tens of thousands of people, we have been
educating the Iranian people about the crimes that have been taking place behind
closed doors for the past 30 years. What changed in 2009 is that those crimes
poured out into the streets. That is why the legitimacy of the regime has been
irreparably damaged. We all know the image of Neda Soltan, and there were
thousands of other such images. The intensification of hate propaganda is, in
part, a reflection of the desperation of the regime to restore its legitimacy in
the wake of now widespread knowledge of atrocities.
One of the opposition figures, who is a cleric and former speaker
of the house, openly spoke about the rape of Iranian youth in the prisons. It is
stunning for someone who is a former regime insider to come out and say that.
These are all reflections that the question of accountability for human rights
abuses is a core issue in a democratic transformation.
With respect to the International Criminal Court, my colleague at
McGill University, Professor Irwin Cotler, has been one the people who has
championed this cause for many years. The important thing is to understand that
all of these crimes are related to each other. The incitement to hatred is also
related to the crimes against humanity, the principal victims of which have been
the Iranian people.
If I may add one final point, my concern is when we go back to
the 1980s and the Iran-Iraq War. In 1988, the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini
issued a fatwa ordering the mass execution of 5,000 leftist political prisoners,
including the members of the Mujahideen organization that Professor Braun
Under cover of war, the regime may be willing to do what it
cannot do now. The regime is executing a significant number of people, but the
scale could be far worse. The reason they are not executing people all at once —
doing it in secret, doing two executions here or five there — is because they
are they are afraid of the people. They realize if they push too far, these
people will come back out in the streets. I think it is a mistake to say this
movement is dead. It has gone into retreat through brutal violence. However, the
regime now exercises control not through ideological legitimacy, but through a
kind of kleptocracy, a military state where the top leadership of the
revolutionary guards are given enormous economic incentives in exchange for
their allegiance to the regime. However, even among the rank and file of the
revolutionary guards you will find anti-regime people. I would say a significant
number of them are against the regime, and it is just a question of when that
opening will come when people will finally make the final push.
Senator De Bané: Professor Braun, about two weeks ago
Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the advisers of President Obama and former national
security adviser to Jimmy Carter, argued very passionately against launching
hostility or war against Iran. His arguments were, first, there is no nuclear
threat in the immediate future, but he insisted on his second argument, which
was that since the end of the Second World War no country has used that nuclear
weapon that acts as a deterrent against an aggression, but not to initiate an
In the case of Iran, they know if they ever make that initiative,
they will be wiped out, and he said no one wants to wipe out its own country. I
am giving it in summary, but that was essentially his argument. If my memory is
not failing, he was interviewed by a journalist on the Bloomberg business
He explained that it is beyond reason that a country will use a
nuclear attack that will definitely wipe out that country. I would be very much
interested to have the counter-argument to Mr. Brzezinski's.
The Chair: If we could have a —
Mr. Braun: Madam Chair, do we have about two hours?
The Chair: No. We have already heard something on that
point, but, if you could address the specific point that we are now revisiting,
it would be helpful. Then, I can get all the senators in for the questions.
Mr. Braun: I will try to make it brief, but I would love
to have that discussion with you at some point because you raise some important
matters. It goes to the heart of misperception and risk, and international
ethics and morality. One of the things we must remember is that Mr. Brzezinski
was the national security adviser to Mr. Carter. We know how well Mr. Carter did
versus Iran. We should be wary of getting advice from someone with Mr.
Brzezinski's record on Iran. It is not particularly encouraging.
I would also say that when he says there is no immediate threat
of Iran going nuclear, that is counter to what President Obama has said, what
Leon Panetta has said, what the Europeans are saying, and what just about every
other intelligence service is saying. Mr. Brzezinski is out of office and not an
adviser to President Obama. Occasionally he may get a phone call, but he is
hardly an adviser. Unless he has a particular intelligence source that is not
available to anyone else, he is against the grain in terms of how Iran is
moving, which is full steam towards acquiring nuclear weapons, according to most
As for the second element that no country would rationally use
nuclear weapons, this is the whole problem of this regime. It does not operate
by the same logic as other regimes do. Mr. Brzezinski made his reputation by
looking at the Soviet Union. He was an old Sovietologist and a very good one. He
was not particularly good on Iran. In the case of Soviet Union, that logic
worked because the historical mission was the victory of the proletariat; the
dialectic had to unfold. That is not the logic of this regime. This is a regime
that may indeed be failing, but think of the lifeline this regime would have if
it was able to get prestige and international immunity — the ability to act with
impunity internationally and domestically — by having nuclear weapons.
On that basis, I would respectfully disagree with Mr. Brzezinski.
Senator De Bané: Thank you.
Senator Downe: I would like to follow that conversation up
and ask Professor Akhavan to join the discussion. You mentioned that Pakistan
was a failed state with nuclear weapons and conflict with India over borders. If
you want a crazy state, you look at North Korea. What I am hearing is that,
unless we have a change of the regime, if they proceed to get the bomb, the only
recourse would be to attack them. Why are they talking about obtaining the bomb?
Is it not better for them to be quiet and simply announce, someday, that they
have it? Surely the lesson of the Iraq war was that Saddam did not have the
bomb, so he was attacked. Nobody is attacking North Korea. Can you explain what
the other options might be to solve this problem, if there are any?
Mr. Akhavan: Thank you, sir. If I may just take two
minutes to give a bit of a background relating to Pakistan, I think Pakistan is
a far greater threat, from the point of view of the stability of the state, in
part because Iran actually has relatively strong institutions within which there
are reformist elements. There is the RIGC, for example, as I explained.
Appearances can be very deceptive. I think it is dangerous when one does not
have knowledge of that local context from a distance to take at face value some
of this inflammatory rhetoric, which is disturbing, unacceptable, and
deliberately designed to achieve exactly this sort of clash of civilizations
context. In that sense, the regime has been successful.
The point is that in Iran there is the regime, and then there is
the state. Even if Iran were a democratic state, it would be a major regional
power. It always has been. Iran has legitimate security concerns, as I
explained. During the decade of the Iran-Iraq War, in which some 500,000 people
were killed, we saw that the international community turned a blind eye to the
gassing of civilians and the bombing of Iranian cities. We do not have a great
record as Western democracies, except in the abstract. During the time of
Khatami, after the country overcame the trauma of the war, and the reformists
were beginning to make some progress, Saddam Hussein was overthrown. There was
talk of an invasion of Iran, which effectively sabotaged much of the reformist
camp because Iran retreated into a security state again. It served the interests
of the hard-liners. We have to remember that after September 11 it was the
Khatami regime that was crucial in helping the United States defeat the Taliban.
Who was the Northern Alliance? The Northern Alliance was supported by Iran, and
it was the Northern Alliance that became the foot soldiers of the aerial
This is all part of the past, but we have to understand that we
did not just end up in this mess overnight and that Iran does have legitimate
security concerns. In terms of what the solution is, as I explained, the world
looks terrible from the position of the Islamic republic's leadership now. They
are losing domestic legitimacy. They have deep divisions within the hardline
leadership, never mind the green movement's opposition. They have 70 per cent of
the population under 30 years of age. They are not able to provide them with
jobs, education, or opportunities. This is not North Korea. These are Internet
savvy, highly literate, educated young people with access to satellite
television and a huge diaspora community. In addition to that, they are losing
Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah. This is exactly the time that a conflict would be a
bigger lifeline than even acquisition of nuclear capability.
Nuclear capability may immunize Iran, to a certain extent,
against a military invasion, but a military invasion is not the biggest threat
to the regime. It is the Iranian people that are the biggest threat. Unless you
intend on throwing a bomb on Tehran, where you yourself live, a nuclear weapon
is not going to be of much use when the day comes that they will, invariably,
have to surrender power.
I think that is the context within which we would best understand
Senator Downe: Thank you. I share your view about
Pakistan. We have all read the reports on Pakistan. It is in a terrible state.
They had Osama bin Laden there. Obviously, they knew he was there. The Americans
had to go in without telling them ahead of time.
However, this regime change could be years and decades away.
Mr. Akhavan: Well, gazing into the crystal ball, it is
very difficult to tell exactly what will happen, but one thing is clear: The
regime has never been weaker and more isolated than before. What is the problem
with the unpredictable consequences of war? Pakistan, as I said, is a
semi-failed state. There have been various thinkers — I will not name them, but
many of them have quite a bit currency — saying that we should foment ethnic war
to destabilize the regime in Iran. Let us give weapons to the Arabs in the
south, to the Kurds, and to the Azeris. Let us arm groups with very questionable
pasts, some of whom have been implicated in genocides, and then we will be able
to overthrow the regime.
What are you going to end up with after you overthrow the regime?
Is it simply a case of getting rid of Ahmadinejad and then having stability?
What of, as I explained, the spectre of Iran becoming a Yugoslavia, where there
is an ethnic war, an instability? You have a semi-failed state. You are in a far
worse position. At least now we know who we are dealing with in Tehran. Even if
we do not like them, they are, at least, the devil that we know.
I am very concerned because you do not know where this is all
going to end, and that is why there are no good alternatives. All the
alternatives are bad, but I think the worst alternative is a premature armed
conflict with unpredictable consequences. We could be back here in five years
revisiting what went wrong.
Senator Downe: Thank you.
The Chair: Senator Robichaud, did you have a question?
Senator Robichaud: Mr. Braun, you started with rationality
and how you explain it, depending on where you are sitting.
When President Bush decided to attack Iraq because of supposed
intelligence that they were very near to having a bomb, was that a rational
decision? If you have some time to explain it to me sometime, I would like to
The question I wanted to ask has been answered in response to
Senator Downe’s question. If we were to take the threat of war or of attack off
the table and work mostly on the threat or the human rights violations in Iran,
how would we weaken the power of the government there or the establishment on
the people of Iran?
Mr. Hassan-Yari: If I was President Obama, I would
immediately open the door to the Iranian regime. For many years, I have
advocated an engagement with the Iranian regime. If you engage with the Iranian
regime, it is going to disappear by itself.
If you look at Khamenei's discourse, it depends. Between 50 to 98
per cent of the content of his discourse involves an attack against the enemies:
the Americans, Zionism. They are the same countries and entities. Imagine that
American-Iranian relations are normal and there is no such thing as the
international arrogance with which he identifies Americans. What is he going to
do then? He has to answer the questions. He has to address the pressing issues:
economic issues, housing issues, minorities' claims, and the many other issues
really that, as my colleague mentioned, he would love not to answer by having
this vague enemy outside of the country.
If the Americans open the dialogue with the regime and open that
possibility, the first day that Americans open their embassy, you will see
thousands and thousands of Iranians asking for visas to leave the country. That
will be the failure of the regime in the eyes of the entire world. The Iranians
know about those things, but many others do not.
How you are going to defeat the regime? I believe that if you
want to defeat really the regime, you have to go to the total war.
Half a war does nothing. It just serves the
regime’s purposes. And an all-out war would come at a very high price for the
world. So we have to choose what we are going to do. I am not saying that we
should not consider the possibility of war if all else fails, but we must try
other things first. The draconian sanctions were applied only recently and we
are already seeing the effect on the regime, which is becoming very nervous
about and fearful of what may happen. If you follow the news from inside Iran,
you hear famine being talked about quite openly. It is being talked about more
What does that mean? It means that these are the
elements that make up a regime in the process of crumbling. I am not saying that
it is going to happen overnight, but look at it, and just compare the current
situation with the one in 1979 and 1980, just after the revolution. The Soviet
revolution lasted a little over 70 years; the Iranian revolution is now just
33 years old and is not at all the same thing. The regime is evolving, sometimes
in the wrong direction, unfortunately, but it is evolving. In my opinion, at the
end of this process, even if the regime is still there, we will see a regime
that is not at all like the one that exists today. But the pressure must come
from inside, with a dose of pressure from outside.
Mr. Braun: In terms of rationality, making a rational
decision does not necessarily mean that you make a good decision. It is, rather,
how the decision is reached. You look for information and you make it according
to a certain kind of logic. This is why I suggested that if you look at the
Iranian regime in terms of their theology, they are making rational decisions
but not according to standards that we would use and not according to the kind
of mechanisms and processes that we would employ. This is why there is not a
kind of mesh; there is not a kind of interaction.
This leads me to the next point, which is that it is a mistake to
suggest that the West did not try to engage with Iran. When President Obama came
to office, he reached out to Iran. He tried, but it did not go anywhere.
Regarding the argument that the Iranian regime is on the verge of
collapse, I remember a dinner conversation with a person of Iranian origin who
said it was a mistake for President Obama to come out strongly and use strong
words against the regime because we play into their hands and that would
encourage this regime to crack down on the opposition. Later, this person had to
change his mind to say that, yes, President Obama should have spoken up.
These kind of totalizing regimes — and we have seen them
elsewhere around the world — often seem on the verge of collapse, but they do
not. They are still in power and they get new lifelines. They are not just
reactive; they are able to think within their own paradigm of rationality. They
can be very effective in suppressing dissent. It may be that they are more of a
kleptocracy than a theocracy, but it does not mean they are not one or the
other. They can be both. It is not just Mr. Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei.
I can bring you statements; you do not need to be a specialist on domestic
affairs in Iraq to see that as these type of regimes go, there is a whole cadre
of people who share these kind of views. It is not just two or three individuals
but a whole cadre who are rewarded by the fact that they are able to trade, to
benefit from the sale of oil and to have acceptance in parts of the
Consequently, the international community has to ask itself a
very important ethical and moral question. When you are looking at a regime like
this, let us not get into diversions with Pakistan. It may be dangerous and
North Korea is dangerous, but does it mean that this will be less dangerous? The
question that the international community has to ask is how much are we prepared
to gamble? How many lives are we prepared to gamble with? What if we are wrong?
What if this regime, if it gets nuclear weapons, will use them? What do we do
then? Do we avenge the dead? Do we do like Mr. Brzezinski said, “Well, if they
use them, we will devastate them.” Is that the solution?
Senator Robichaud: Is attacking them before they do so the
other solution? There is going to be a holocaust there. Everyone will be
shooting at everyone.
Mr. Braun: I do not know. Why were we in Libya or in
Kosovo? Every time you take military action, there is a risk. What I am saying
is let us have the strongest possible sanctions.
Senator Robichaud: I agree with that.
Mr. Braun: Let us encourage the opposition every single
step to get rid of this regime, but at the same time make certain that they do
not get nuclear weapons. That is the red line because if they get nuclear
weapons, we will have no opportunity to do anything.
We must also remember that, as in the case of Miloševic and
elsewhere, a lot of these regimes are not as strong as they look. Often, they
threaten that the whole world will be on fire. Maybe they cannot do it, but if
they get nuclear weapons they could. Are we feeling lucky? Are we prepared to
The Chair: I have to stop at this point. We have started,
and will continue, our study on Iran. Of course the nuclear issue, the stability
of the regime and the way to approach Iran are big issues. Are there any more
diplomatic means that we can take, or are we now struggling with the inevitable
around the nuclear issue? What I have not heard, within our debate so far, is
that Syria, and the situation there, is equally important to the stability or
instability of Iran. While we are focusing in on the nuclear position — and we
should not let go of that because there will be another International Atomic
Energy Agency report, along with the evidence that we have been looking at — I
have not heard that if Syria either has a regime change or goes into chaos,
there is an explosive dynamic that could occur as a spillover in Iran. Now, none
of you have highlighted that as a significant key. You have highlighted your
different positions, but you only mentioned Syria in passing. This is opposed to
what others, particularly in Europe, in my discussions, have said is key.
Mr. Hassan-Yari: I put it in my paper that you will get a
copy of. In my view, Syria is playing the role of bridge between Iran and
Lebanon, Hezbollah, and some Palestinian groups. If the Assad regime falls, it
will be catastrophic for the Iranian regime because Syria, for so many decades
really, played the role of a window for the Islamic republic to breathe. That
window has become more crucial now in the context of more isolation of Iran and
what we are talking about here. This is why, in my view, the Islamic republic is
helping the Assad regime to address the issue and to control the situation.
There are so many scenarios we can imagine about Syria. One of
them would be that the regime falls, the opposition takes over, and everything
will be okay. It will be okay in the sense that bloodshed will be there, a lot
of règlements de comptes will continue and so forth, but that would be for
internal issues. Regionally, I think we would not see a lot of upheaval if that
scenario were realized.
In regard to the Syrian-Lebanese situation, we will see a much
less aggressive policy by Syria. In regard to the Israeli issue — the Golan
Heights — no one can forget the Golan Heights, regardless of who will be in
power. The relationship between this future Syrian government and Turkey will
improve significantly because of the current context. In the Iraqi situation, it
will be so-so, but there is a good possibility of improvement because, after
all, they depend on each other a lot. If Syria plunges into chaos, that would be
a nightmare for Israel and for Lebanon. It would also be a very difficult
situation for the Turks because they have their own Alevi minority, and we
already saw some conflict there. It will be difficult for the Iraqis, obviously,
because no one is capable of controlling their border. However, in both
scenarios, the biggest losers would be the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hezbollah,
and, consequently, some of the Palestinian groups. By the way, Hamas is not
really entirely cut off from the Iranians because Hania was in Tehran a few days
ago, and he reiterated what he used to say, that Israel should disappear and
that Hamas is not negotiating.
The Chair: We have run out of time. As I predicted, by
having the three of you here, we have seen and heard different points of view.
You have been provocative and have given us a lot to think about. It is not an
easy issue. We knew when we embarked on this study that it is a difficult one
for the Canadian government, for the world community, and, more particularly,
for the Iranian people.
We know that you have put papers forward that will be distributed
after translation, so we look forward to the full text from all three of you.
I want to thank you today, on behalf of the committee, for coming
and sharing your points of view, which we will take into account. We have been
advised — or at least I was — that one of the papers to be submitted here, as
part of testimony, was dispersed to the press earlier. There has been a
convention, which, obviously, no witnesses are bound by, that the papers are
filed here and then released to the press, as one cannot anticipate what would
be said here. I will ask the clerk to ensure that witnesses are made aware of
that in the future. It is not to thwart any other debate, but, if there is a
particular submission to this committee, it is just a courtesy that the senators
receive it first. I put that on the record. I do not want to follow further with
I thank you for stimulating our thinking into the consequences of
all of the opinions that you have given. It will certainly not be easy as we go
forward, and we encourage you to add to our debate as you follow us. Thank you
for coming this evening.
(The committee adjourned.)