WASHINGTON — The Trudeau government is playing down its difference of opinion with former prime minister Stephen Harper over U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to abandon the Iran nuclear deal.
Two different senior Liberals offered similarly low-key reactions after the former prime minister and several other former politicians took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to express full-throated support for the U.S. administration's brazen and controversial move.
The ad — "Mr. President, You Are Right About Iran," it declares in large type — puts Harper in line with Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but offside with the current Canadian government and several of America's European allies.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his foreign affairs minister, Chrystia Freeland, both say the current government continues to support the agreement, which puts limits on Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for some sanctions relief.
And they agree the past prime minister is free to have his own views.
"Mr. Harper is a private citizen and allowed his own opinions,'' Trudeau said in Saguenay, Que.
''But as for the government of Canada, we take a firm position that the (Iran deal), while not a perfect accord, certainly is a very positive step, holding Iran to account and preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, which would be a threat not just to the region but to global stability.''
He also questioned whether the current Conservative party agrees with its former leader.
Freeland also said she spoke Thursday with her British counterpart Boris Johnson about next steps for the international community in trying to prevent Iran from getting the bomb, despite the weakening of the agreement.
The Canadian government has hinted it might not re-impose sanctions, but has also suggested it's a non-issue as Canada does little business with Iran anyway.
Freeland said Canada's main bilateral issue with Iran right now has to do with something else entirely: its refusal to let widow Maryam Mombeini leave the country, after the dual citizen's husband, an environmentalist and university professor, died in an Iranian jail while being held on espionage accusations.
She called the situation ''dreadful": "This is really a key issue for me, personally, and for the government of Canada."