Recent Posts
HomeEventsParliamentary Briefing — Middle East Security and Human Rights in Iran

Parliamentary Briefing — Middle East Security and Human Rights in Iran

Panel Discussion Organized by the Insitute for Peace & Diplomacy

Click here or on the following photo to watch the full video of the panel discussion on CPAC.

Here is a summary of the discussions prepared by IPD fellow  Amadeus Narbutt:

On February 6th, the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy (IPD) hosted a Parliamentary Briefing Session in Ottawa about human rights, security, and recent developments in the Middle East. The two panels presented dealt with various topics, but had significant overlaps in their focus, specifically in regards to recent escalations between the United States and Iran. 

The first panel consisted of Bijan Ahmadi, President of the IPD, and Tara Sepeheri Far, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. Ms. Sepeheri Far discussed recent protests movements in Iran as well as the downing of Flight 752. Regarding protests in Iran, she highlighted the interesting change that the most recent demonstrations have made. Whereas Iran has traditionally had an active civil society organized through student groups and political parties, these recent protests have been fairly leaderless, unorganized, and spontaneous. The failed expectations of Iran’s promised ‘opening’ and the collapse of the JCPOA are one of the most prominent grievances that have animated the protests thus far. 

In response to a question about President Trump’s tweets supporting Iranian protesters, Ms. Sepeheri Far stated that the tweets were purely theatrical: any examination of the Trump administration’s actions makes it clear that the United States is not concerned with human rights improvement in Iran. The tweets represented the “instrumentalization of human rights of political gain”. 

Sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States have threatened Iranians’ access to medicine and hindered humanitarian NGOs’ ability to transfer funds and aid. Over-compliance by corporations and aid organizations who are scared of being penalized leads to the sanctions being far tougher in practice than they are on paper. Sepeheri Far stated that while a workaround payment channel in development by Switzerland was a positive development, it is not a permanent solution.

Ms. Sepehri Far also discussed the need for Canada to view its Iranian ties and diaspora community as an ‘asset’ and how Canada’s lack of diplomatic presence in Iran hinders Canada’s ability to play a positive role in the region.

Security in the Middle East:

The second panel of the evening was moderated by Younes Zangiabadi, the Vice-President of the IPD, who was joined by Dr. Mahsa Rouhi of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and Dr. Thomas Juneau of the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. This discussion focused specifically on the security implications of recent tensions between the United States and Iran. 

The panelists discussed the JCPOA and the United States’ recent withdrawal, but agreed that while the JCPOA was damaged it is not yet dead; it is on ‘life support’. Dr. Rouhi questioned whether the United Kingdom would remain in the JCPOA as well, and made clear that Iran’s ‘redline’ surrounding the JCPOA is whether their case is referred to the United Nations Security Council. Dr. Juneau claimed that the European Union has little power to save the JCPOA; any saving of it will come from the actions of the United States. 

Regarding the engagement strategy of the United States, Dr. Juneau stated that the 12 demands outlined by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were completely unrealistic and represented a ‘maximalist’ position. Dr. Rouhi added by postulating the United States’ likely goals in terms of Iran, suggesting three: a) regime change; b) acceptance of Pompeo’s maximalist demands; and c) the weakening of Iran’s capacity for regional military action. Regime change is not happening for the foreseeable future and Dr. Rouhi agreed with Dr. Juneau that the maximalist demands would not be met. Most interestingly, Dr. Rouhi stated that the third option was illogical: while the United States is hoping that domestic strife will bog down the Iranian government’s capacity to act, in reality greater threats lead to greater investment in military capability, at any cost. 

Dr. Juneau agreed with this assessment, stating that it is completely rational for Iran to escalate in response to the US’s maximalist campaign, but feared that there was “no obvious off-ramp” for this new level of tensions. Dr. Juneau went on to state that Trump very likely does not want war and that the Iranians will escalate only to the limit of what will not cause war since they know they would lose in a physical war against the US. Trump’s reluctance for direct military confrontation then gives the Iranians more “room to maneuver”. Dr. Rouhi was less optimistic about the stability of current tensions, however, stating that wars occur from miscalculations. Further, she hinted at the possibility of Trump reneging on his anti-war stance if he foresees a tough election fight in 2020. 

Both panelists agreed that listing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization was not in Canada’s best interest. Dr. Juneau questioned the feasibility and benefit of sanctioning a group with hundreds of thousands of conscripts, while Dr. Rouhi stressed that the IRGC will need to be part of any future security agreement in the region. 

The panelists concluded the discussion with comments on the recent Iraq vote on expelling US forces from the country, the possibility of Oman acting as a mediator for the US and Iran in the future, and the role of Saudi Arabia in the region. 

Subscribe to the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy’s newsletter to keep up to date about future panels and events. 

Panel 4: Pathways to Manage Non-Proliferation in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:45 PM ET)

The Western powers have failed to effectively manage the increasing threat of proliferation in the Middle East. While the international community is concerned with Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has moved forward with developing its own nuclear program, and independent studies show that Israel has longed possessed dozens of nuclear warheads. The former is a member of the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), while the latter has refused to sign the international agreement. 

On Middle East policy, the Biden campaign had staunchly criticized the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal and it has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier since assuming office in January 2021. However, serious obstacles remain for responsible actors in expanding non-proliferation efforts toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. 

This panel will discuss how Western powers and multilateral institutions, such as the IAEA, can play a more effective role in managing non-proliferation efforts in the Middle East.  


Peggy Mason: Canada’s former Ambassador to the UN for Disarmament

Mark Fitzpatrick: Associate Fellow & Former Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

Ali Vaez: Iran Project Director, International Crisis Group

Negar Mortazavi: Journalist and Political Analyst, Host of Iran Podcast

David Albright: Founder and President of the Institute for Science and International Security


Closing (5:45 PM – 6:00 PM ET)

Panel 3: Trade and Business Diplomacy in the Middle East (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

What is the current economic landscape in the Middle East? While global foreign direct investment is expected to fall drastically in the post-COVID era, the World Bank reported a 5% contraction in the economic output of the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries in 2020 due to the pandemic. While oil prices are expected to rebound with normalization in demand, political instability, regional and geopolitical tensions, domestic corruption, and a volatile regulatory and legal environment all threaten economic recovery in the Middle East. What is the prospect for economic growth and development in the region post-pandemic, and how could MENA nations promote sustainable growth and regional trade moving forward?

At the same time, Middle Eastern diaspora communities have become financially successful and can help promote trade between North America and the region. In this respect, the diaspora can become vital intermediaries for advancing U.S. and Canada’s business interests abroad. Promoting business diplomacy can both benefit the MENA region and be an effective and positive way to advance engagement and achieve foreign policy goals of the North Atlantic.

This panel will investigate the trade and investment opportunities in the Middle East, discuss how facilitating economic engagement with the region can benefit Canadian and American national interests, and explore relevant policy prescriptions.


Hon. Sergio Marchi: Canada’s Former Minister of International Trade

Scott Jolliffe: Chairperson, Canada Arab Business Council

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj: Founder and Publisher of Bourse & Bazaar

Nizar Ghanem: Director of Research and Co-founder at Triangle

Nicki Siamaki: Researcher at Control Risks

Panel 2: Arms Race and Terrorism in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

The Middle East continues to grapple with violence and instability, particularly in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Fueled by government incompetence and foreign interventions, terrorist insurgencies have imposed severe humanitarian and economic costs on the region. Meanwhile, regional actors have engaged in an unprecedented pursuit of arms accumulation. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have imported billions of both Western and Russian-made weapons and funded militant groups across the region, intending to contain their regional adversaries, particularly Iran. Tehran has also provided sophisticated weaponry to various militia groups across the region to strengthen its geopolitical position against Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel. 

On the other hand, with international terrorist networks and intense regional rivalry in the Middle East, it is impractical to discuss peace and security without addressing terrorism and the arms race in the region. This panel will primarily discuss the implications of the ongoing arms race in the region and the role of Western powers and multilateral organizations in facilitating trust-building security arrangements among regional stakeholders to limit the proliferation of arms across the Middle East.



Luciano Zaccara: Assistant Professor, Qatar University

Dania Thafer: Executive Director, Gulf International Forum

Kayhan Barzegar: Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of Azad University

Barbara Slavin: Director of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council

Sanam Shantyaei: Senior Journalist at France24 & host of Middle East Matters

Panel 1: Future of Diplomacy and Engagement in the Middle East (10:30 AM-11:45 AM ET)

The emerging regional order in West Asia will have wide-ranging implications for global security. The Biden administration has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier, an initiative staunchly opposed by Israel, while also taking a harder line on Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Meanwhile, key regional actors, including Qatar, Iraq, and Oman, have engaged in backchannel efforts to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. From a broader geopolitical perspective, with the need to secure its energy imports, China is also expected to increase its footprint in the region and influence the mentioned challenges. 

In this evolving landscape, Western powers will be compelled to redefine their strategic priorities and adjust their policies with the new realities in the region. In this panel, we will discuss how the West, including the United States and its allies, can utilize multilateral diplomacy with its adversaries to prevent military escalation in the region. Most importantly, the panel will discuss if a multilateral security dialogue in the Persian Gulf region, proposed by some regional actors, can help reduce tensions among regional foes and produce sustainable peace and development for the region. 


Abdullah Baabood: Academic Researcher and Former Director of the Centre for Gulf Studies, Qatar University

Trita Parsi: Executive Vice-President, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Ebtesam Al-Ketbi: President, Emirates Policy Centre​

Jon Allen: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Israel

Elizabeth Hagedorn: Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor

Panel 4: Humanitarian Diplomacy: An Underused Foreign Policy Tool in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:30 PM ET)

Military interventions, political and economic instabilities, and civil unrest in the Middle East have led to a global refugee crisis with an increasing wave of refugees and asylum seekers to Europe and Canada. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has, in myriad ways, exacerbated and contributed to the ongoing security threats and destabilization of the region.

While these challenges pose serious risks to Canadian security, Ottawa will also have the opportunity to limit such risks and prevent a spillover effect vis-à-vis effective humanitarian initiatives in the region. In this panel, we will primarily investigate Canada’s Middle East Strategy’s degree of success in providing humanitarian aid to the region. Secondly, the panel will discuss what programs and initiatives Canada can introduce to further build on the renewed strategy. and more specifically, how Canada can utilize its policy instruments to more effectively deal with the increasing influx of refugees from the Middle East. 



Erica Di Ruggiero: Director of Centre for Global Health, University of Toronto

Reyhana Patel: Head of Communications & Government Relations, Islamic Relief Canada

Amir Barmaki: Former Head of UN OCHA in Iran

Catherine Gribbin: Senior Legal Advisor for International and Humanitarian Law, Canadian Red Cross

Panel 3: A Review of Canada’s Middle East Engagement and Defense Strategy (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

In 2016, Canada launched an ambitious five-year “Middle East Engagement Strategy” (2016-2021), committing to investing CA$3.5 billion over five years to help establish the necessary conditions for security and stability, alleviate human suffering and enable stabilization programs in the region. In the latest development, during the meeting of the Global Coalition against ISIS, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau announced more than $43.6 million in Peace and Stabilization Operations Program funding for 11 projects in Syria and Iraq.

With Canada’s Middle East Engagement Strategy expiring this year, it is time to examine and evaluate this massive investment in the Middle East region in the past five years. More importantly, the panel will discuss a principled and strategic roadmap for the future of Canada’s short-term and long-term engagement in the Middle East.


Ferry de Kerckhove: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Egypt

Dennis Horak: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Chris Kilford: Former Canadian Defence Attaché in Turkey, member of the national board of the Canadian International Council (CIC)

David Dewitt: University Professor Emeritus, York University

Panel 2: The Great Power Competition in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

While the United States continues to pull back from certain regional conflicts, reflected by the Biden administration’s decision to halt American backing for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and the expected withdrawal from Afghanistan, US troops continue to be stationed across the region. Meanwhile, Russia and China have significantly maintained and even expanded their regional activities. On one hand, the Kremlin has maintained its military presence in Syria, and on the other hand, China has signed an unprecedented 25-year strategic agreement with Iran.

As the global power structure continues to shift, it is essential to analyze the future of the US regional presence under the Biden administration, explore the emerging global rivalry with Russia and China, and at last, investigate the implications of such competition for peace and security in the Middle East.


Dmitri Trenin: Director of Carnegie Moscow Center

Joost R. Hiltermann: Director of MENA Programme, International Crisis Group

Roxane Farmanfarmaian: Affiliated Lecturer in International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa, University of Cambridge

Andrew A. Michta: Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at Marshall Center

Kelley Vlahos: Senior Advisor, Quincy Institute

Panel 1: A New Middle East Security Architecture in the Making (10:30 AM -11:45 AM ET)

The security architecture of the Middle East has undergone rapid transformations in an exceptionally short period. Notable developments include the United States gradual withdrawal from the region, rapprochement between Israel and some GCC states through the Abraham Accords and the rise of Chinese and Russian regional engagement.

With these new trends in the Middle East, it is timely to investigate the security implications of the Biden administration’s Middle East policy. In this respect, we will discuss the Biden team’s new approach vis-à-vis Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The panel will also discuss the role of other major powers, including China and Russia in shaping this new security environment in the region, and how the Biden administration will respond to these powers’ increasing regional presence.



Sanam Vakil: Deputy Director of MENA Programme at Chatham House

Denise Natali: Acting Director, Institute for National Strategic Studies & Director of the Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University

Hassan Ahmadian: Professor of the Middle East and North Africa Studies, University of Tehran

Abdulaziz Sagar: Chairman, Gulf Research Center

Andrew Parasiliti: President, Al-Monitor