OTTAWA — Former prime minister Stephen Harper told a conference in New Delhi Tuesday that a “change in Iran” is needed if the international community is to see peace in the Middle East.
Harper made the comment during his opening remarks at the Raisina Dialogue, an annual conference held to discuss international geopolitical challenges.
He prefaced his participation on a panel about “influence operations” undermining democracies in a digital age by acknowledging the 57 Canadians killed onboard a downed plane “as a consequence of the Iranian actions.” Iran acknowledged “human error” led to an accidental missile hit on Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 amid increased international tensions last week
“I do believe we need to see a change in Iran if we are going to see peace in the Middle East,” he said.
Harper has been a vocal critic of the Iranian regime. He took out a full-page ad in the New York Times last year to praise U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull his country out of the Iran nuclear deal.
One of the conference’s scheduled speakers is Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s minister of foreign affairs.
Flight 752 was shot down shortly after takeoff in Tehran last week. There were 176 passengers on board. No one survived.
The hit came shortly after Iran launched missiles at two military bases in Iraq — including one where Canadian troops were stationed — in response to a U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. Canadian troops were not injured in the Iran missle strikes.
Watch: Trudeau vows justice for Iran plane crash at memorial. Story continues below.
Three days after the crash, Iran blamed “human error” for passenger plane strike. The country’s president, Hassan Rouhani, admitted one of its missiles downed the commercial flight after it was mistaken as a threat. Harper expressed his own skepticism.
“I don’t think any of us believe that Iran would have deliberately shot down an aircraft, but the very fact that Iran – believing such a thing could happen – would be allowing normal civilian traffic, I think, tells you something about the nature of that regime and its priorities.”
Thousands of Iranians have joined protests in the streets to express their outrage over the government’s delayed admission that its own military shot down a commercial plane with Iranian citizens on board.
Harper suggested that depending on the outcome of the protests, there could be more stability in the region.
“If there’s 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.
His former Conservative government severed diplomatic ties with Iran in 2012 when Canada listed Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. The Harper government closed the Canadian embassy in Tehran and kicked out Iranian diplomats from Ottawa.
The Liberals campaigned in 2015 to mend diplomatic relations with Iran. Canadian interests are currently facilitated with the Italian embassy in Tehran.
Canada’s tenuous relations with Iran haven’t helped to expedite repatriating bodies or learning about the chain of events that led to Flight 752 being shot out of the sky.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested in an interview with Global News anchor Dawna Friesen that the U.S. has some responsibility in the tragedy. “I think if there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families,” he said on Monday.
“This is something that happens when you have conflict and war. Innocents bear the brunt of it. And it is a reminder why all of us need to work so hard on de-escalation, on moving forward to reduce tensions and find a pathway that doesn’t involve further conflict and killing.”