Harper says regime change needed in Iran to bring peace to region



Former prime minister Stephen Harper says peace in the Middle East will only come after regime change in Iran.

Speaking at an international conference on global challenges in New Delhi Tuesday, Harper said he does not believe Iran would have shot down a civilian aircraft deliberately — but the fact that Tehran knew it could happen and still allowed normal civilian air traffic “tells you something about the nature of that regime and its priorities.”

“I do believe we need to see a change in Iran if we are going to see peace in the Middle East,” he told the international audience at the Raisina Dialogue conference.

“I see an increasing number of states in the region — Israel, that I’m close to, certainly the Sunni Arab monarchies, others who are increasingly trying to work together and see a common future and common interests — and you have this one actor that quite frankly is … based on religious fanaticism and regional imperialism and, as I say as a friend of the Jewish people, frankly an anti-Semitic state.”

Iranian leaders confirmed Saturday that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shot down the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 using surface-to-air missiles, killing all 176 passengers and crew on board. Of those passengers, 138 were destined for Canada, but it’s not known how many were permanent residents or were travelling on visitor or student visas.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne has said that 57 of the victims were Canadian citizens.

This week, Canadian Jewish and Iranian organizations called on the government to list the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist entity in response to the attack on the Ukrainian aircraft.

‘Tremendous loss of life’

Harper suggested that while the “tremendous loss of life” has inspired an outpouring of grief and anger in Iran and Canada, it could ultimately have a positive impact on the region.

“If somehow … there [were] any way through the protests in Iran or the consequences of this that Iran could go on a better trajectory, I think that would be very core to resolving the problems of the Middle East,” he said. “Certainly not resolve them all overnight, but I think without a change in the nature of the government of Tehran, the Middle East will continue to be in turmoil.”

Harper’s Conservative government had long taken a hardline stand on Iran. It suspended diplomatic relations with the country in 2012, expelling diplomats and closing the embassy.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had campaigned on a promise to restore diplomatic relations with Iran in 2015, but the two countries have not re-engaged.

In May 2018, Harper signed his name to a full-page ad in the New York Times supporting U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from a landmark nuclear accord with Iran.

At the time, then-foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland said she regretted the U.S. decision and called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) an “important and useful agreement.”