Rafael Barak’s bags hadn’t even arrived from Jerusalem before the new Israeli ambassador to Canada took part in a conference call sponsored by the Centre for Jewish and Israel Affairs (CIJA) on the Iranian nuclear deal.
Echoing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s words, Barak, who officially took up his new post late last month, said that although many consider the Iranian nuclear deal a historic agreement, he considers it a historic mistake.
The hour-long conference call featured Barak, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel, and Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies.
The six-month-long interim deal, which was agreed to by the P5+1 and Iran on Nov. 24, freezes parts of Tehran’s nuclear development program in exchange for a decrease of sanctions. Iran will not be allowed to enrich uranium beyond five per cent and must stop its development of the Arak plant. The International Atomic Energy Agency will also get more access for inspections.
“Skeptical” was a word used many times throughout the discussion of the deal.
Baird said the Canadian government would like to see the agreement succeed, but “we believe that countries earn the benefit of the doubt.” Iran has not done so, he said, thus he remains “deeply skeptical.”
Dubowitz, too, said he was wary of the agreement, especially since there’s no way to truly ensure that Iran doesn’t continue to develop nuclear weapons. The deal may set the program back, but physicists can continue to research other aspects of nuclear development.
If Iran continues its research on weaponization, once the deal expires in six months, the country may not be far from attaining nuclear warheads, he said.
“Geneva is all trust and next to no verifying, which is a very concerning issue,” Dubowitz said.
It’s not just about nuclear weapons, he added. Through sanctions relief, Iran has saved itself from a financial crisis, and he expects to see “billions of dollars flowing into the country” over the coming months.
Although sanctions relief has been estimated to be worth $7 billion, Dubowitz said if it’s factored in that Iran will surely exploit loopholes, $20 billion is a more accurate figure.
Fogel said he worries that Iran is interpreting the agreement as a sign of weakening resolve in the West, and that it’s important to distinguish between inducements and incentives. The deal offers the former more than the latter, he said.
“It’s effectively trying to coax through concessions and undeserved relief, rather than driving home the point that there is a way for Iran to climb back into the family of nations – that is, coming into the compliance with and adhering to its international regulations,” he said.
Despite the agreement, Canada and other countries that are dissatisfied with the deal can continue to pass anti-terrorism legislation, Dubowitz said, and Fogel said Canada should continue to enforce its existing sanctions against Iran.
Barak emphasized the importance of the sanctions, thanking Canada for its support of Israel.
“Iran is a country that is threatening us, and we feel it’s something we have to deal with,” Barak said, adding that the sanctions have had a positive effect, and thus should not be weakened.
The interim deal “is putting a lot of question marks on the future.”