Harper speaks out on Iran in wake of downed jet
OTTAWA -- Former prime minister Stephen Harper said he thinks a "change in the nature of the government" in Iran is needed in order for there to be peace in the Middle East -- and he hopes the fallout from the recent Iran plane crash sparks that change.
"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," said Harper, speaking at a conference in New Delhi, India on Tuesday.
"I do believe we need to see a change in Iran if we're going to see peace in the Middle East."
Harper went on to say that while other countries in the Middle East are "increasingly trying to work together," Iran is the one actor that isn’t participating.
"You have this one actor that, quite frankly, is based on religious fanaticism and regional imperialism," Harper said.
In Iran, protesters have been pouring into the streets, furious in the wake of the news that Iran accidentally shot down the plane with a surface to air missile. There were 57 Canadians passport-holders on the plane and 82 Iranians. There were no survivors among the 167 passengers.
"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," Harper 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."
Canada places blame for crash on recent escalations
Following Iran's admission that the plane was accidentally shot down, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn't minced his words. Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Trudeau said "this is a tragedy that should not have happened."
"Shooting down a civilian aircraft is horrific. Iran must take full responsibility," he said.
Iran announced Tuesday that it had made arrests in response to the accidental shoot-down. Iran's Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said after "extensive investigations" there have been arrests against "some individuals."
However, Trudeau's strong words didn’t stop with the Iranians. Speaking to Global National on Monday, the prime minister said that the 57 Canadians killed in the crash would still be alive if there hadn't been an escalation of tensions in the region recently.
"If there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families," Trudeau said.
Tensions between Iran and the United States had been brewing since U.S. President Donald Trump's 2018 withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the imposition of crippling sanctions on Iran. That brewing conflict boiled over on Jan. 3, when a targeted U.S. airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Iran then fired ballistic missiles on two bases in Iraq where American soldiers were stationed. The strikes, according to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were in retaliation for the U.S. airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq that killed Soleimani.
That tense environment was the reason a civilian aircraft was shot down from the sky, according to Trudeau.
"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, moving forward to reduce tensions and find a pathway that doesn't involve further conflict and killing," he told Global's Dawna Friesen.
Canada is continuing to call for accountability in the wake of the tragedy. Trudeau said Sunday that he is seeking both a credible investigation and compensation for the families of those who were killed.
The investigation of the accident is currently underway, with Iranians at the lead. Canada has two Transportation Safety Board investigators in the region and plans to send two more to analyze the black boxes from the accident, which are damaged, once the details of when and where that analysis will take place are provided. Still, TSB Chair Kathy Fox told reporters on Monday that Canadians can expect a long wait before getting any real answers.
"This is not going to be a short investigation," Fox said. "This is going to take time, to answer all the questions."
With files from The Canadian Press
A previous version of this story attributed Stephen Harper saying in order for there to be peace in the Middle East, a regime change in Iran was needed. While Harper did say he believes a “change in the nature of government of Tehran” was needed in order for there to be peace, he did not use the term regime change.