National Post (Latest Edition)

OPPOSITION LEADER CONCEDES SETBACK

- Alireza Nader Twitter.com/alirezanad­er Alireza Nader is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracie­s (FDD), where he also contribute­s to FDD’S Center on Military and Political Power.

belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanous­kaya has admitted the protest movement against dictator Alexander Lukashenko “seems to have lost” after being on the verge of toppling his regime last year.

Tsikhanous­kaya, who fled belarus after apparent threats to her children amid a violent crackdown on protests in the summer, said the path to freedom and democracy would be longer and harder than many imagined.

“I have to admit that we have lost the streets. We have no way of combating the regime’s violence against protesters,” she told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps ahead of a planned visit to the country next month. “They have the strength, they have the guns ... I know belarusian­s are tired, they are afraid.”

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of belarus in August after Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet nation with an iron fist for 26 years, claimed a landslide victory in an election widely seen as rigged.

Arecently revealed audio tape of a “senior” Iranian official demonstrat­es the Islamic republic of Iran’s continuing attempt to hide its responsibi­lity for the downing of ukrainian Airline flight PS752 shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Internatio­nal Airport on Jan. 8, 2020. The speaker in the recording appears to be Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif, a man who often attempts to portray himself as the “moderate” face of the regime abroad.

In the recording, Zarif admits that the truth about PS752 “will never be revealed … they (Iran’s government and military) won’t tell us, nor anyone else, because if they do it will open some doors into the defence systems of the country that will not be in the interest of the nation to publicly say.”

Zarif ’s admission provides additional evidence that the regime shot down PS752 and deliberate­ly covered it up. Importantl­y for Ottawa, Zarif’s involvemen­t in the coverup demonstrat­es the need for a tougher Canadian policy toward Iran, one that puts pressure on the regime rather than continuing to operate under the misguided belief that diplomatic engagement will achieve anything meaningful.

The Islamic revolution­ary Guards Corps’s (IRGC) downing of PS752 resulted in the deaths of 176 passengers and crew, many of whom were citizens, permanent residents or others with ties to Canada. After initially denying any culpabilit­y, the regime later said it was the result of “human error” on the part of low-level IRGC personnel. Zarif’s recorded conversati­on demonstrat­es culpabilit­y at the highest levels of the regime, including senior members of the IRGC, as Zarif admits that senior officials are aware of their guilt but will not ever admit to the truth publicly.

The audio tape also confirms Zarif’s integral role in the regime’s apparatus of terror and repression. Zarif, dubbed the “ribbentrop of Iran” by the victims’ families, may present a suave and more sophistica­ted face of the regime, but he is attempting to buy more time for the IRGC and prevent the truth about the regime’s crimes against humanity from ever emerging.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has favoured a policy of rapprochem­ent between Canada and Iran, including re-establishi­ng diplomatic relations and restarting Canadian investment­s in the country. Trudeau’s strategy is to “work together” with Zarif, without exerting any pressure on the regime.

Trudeau’s overly friendly February 2020 meeting with Zarif, which included a warm handshake and abundant smiles, was roundly condemned by Iranian-canadians. Trudeau cannot afford to make a similar mistake again given Zarif’s admission, as he faces intense scrutiny from the relatively large and increasing­ly mobilized Iranian-canadian electorate.

Trudeau has come to a critical juncture. He can either pursue friendly relations with the regime and hope for the best, or exert pressure on Zarif and his masters in Tehran. He has the tools of a pressure policy easily at hand. First, he must designate the IRGC as a terrorist organizati­on, as a motion passed by Parliament in 2018 called on the government to do. The designatio­n should be followed by a widespread investigat­ion into the regime’s extensive political influence and money-laundering network in Canada.

Canada should also work with ukraine and the united States to initiate arbitratio­n proceeding­s under the Montreal Convention of 1971, which criminaliz­es the use of violence against civilian aircraft.

The recent recording is additional evidence of the regime’s criminal recklessne­ss and, as a party to the convention, Iran is required to investigat­e and prosecute all offenders and accomplice­s. but so far, it has sought to ensure that its most senior officials will not be held accountabl­e.

Initiating the Montreal Convention may also increase the chances of the internatio­nal community holding the regime accountabl­e by imposing financial and criminal sanctions on it.

The victims of PS752 deserve truth and justice. The Islamic republic of Iran, and especially Zarif, have worked hard to hide the regime’s crimes against humanity. Trudeau should not hope for answers from Zarif. What Zarif and the IRGC deserve is a steel hand, not a warm embrace.

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 ?? OHANNES eisele / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES FILES ?? Mohammad Zarif, foreign minister of Iran, has been dubbed the “Ribbentrop of Iran” by victims of PS752.
OHANNES eisele / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES FILES Mohammad Zarif, foreign minister of Iran, has been dubbed the “Ribbentrop of Iran” by victims of PS752.

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