NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. – Concerns about voting irregularities in Iran, North Korea’s recent nuclear test and its latest threats of war hovered in the air as Canada’s foreign affairs minister and his U.S. counterpart met Saturday in Canada’s honeymoon capital.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said he was “deeply concerned” by reports of voting irregularities and intimidation in Iran’s presidential election.
“We’re troubled by reports of intimidation of opposition candidates offices by (Iran’s) security forces,” Cannon said at an event with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The minister said he had tasked Canadian embassy officials in Tehran with closely monitoring the situation.
“Canada is calling on Iranian authorities to conduct fair and transparent counting of all ballots,” Cannon said with Clinton by his side.
Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the landslide winner with 62.6 per cent of the vote. However, his reformist rival Mir Hossein Mousavi – a former prime minister during the 1980s – also claimed victory and alleged widespread election fraud. He received 33.75 per cent of the vote.
Thousands of masked protesters, who accused Ahmadinejad of using fraud to steal the election, set fire to tires and garbage bins and threw rocks at police outside the Interior Ministry on Saturday in the most serious unrest in Tehran in a decade. Police beat demonstrators with clubs.
Taking a more muted approach than Cannon, Clinton said the United States has refrained from commenting on the election in Iran.
“We are monitoring the situation as it unfolds in Iran, but we, like the rest of the world, are waiting and watching to see what the Iranian people decide,” Clinton said. “We obviously hope the outcome reflects the genuine will and desire of the Iranian people.”
Later, the White House said the U.S. was paying close attention to reports of alleged election irregularities.
University of Toronto history professor Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, who was born and raised in Iran but lived in the U.S. for two decades before coming to Canada in 2003, said the most important pressure for re-counting of votes will be coming from Iran.
“If there is anything that can be done, it will be done because of internal pressures, not because of external pressures,” Tavakoli-Targhi said in a telephone interview from London where he’s promoting a new book.
Tavakoli-Targhi, who wrote the book “Refashioning Iran: Orientalism, Occidentalism and Nationalist Historiography,” said he’s surprised by the outcome of the election.
“There are two possibilities. Either there has been a lot of irregularities in the counting of the votes, or Iran has become deeply fractured. And both scenarios are plausible,” said Tavakoli-Targhi.
“The fracturing of it is rather evident, because President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on one side and the other candidates present two different alternatives and two different views of Iran. And the youth that supported Mousavi have a different conception of Islam than President Ahmadinejad,” said Tavakoli-Targhi.
Clinton said besides Iran, she and Cannon also discussed a number of global concerns, including joint efforts in Afghanistan – where the U.S. recently sent 7,000 troops to bolster efforts in the dangerous south where Canada has about 2,500 soldiers and has seen 119 Canadian soldiers die – and concerns elsewhere.
“We discussed the challenges in Pakistan, the Middle East, Iran and elsewhere,” said Clinton.
Both Cannon and Clinton applauded the UN Security Council’s new resolution on North Korea, passed Friday, which expands an arms embargo and aims to cut off financing North Korea uses for its nuclear program as well as punish it for its May 25 nuclear test.
North Korean ships suspected of transporting ballistic missile and nuclear materials can also be searched, under provisions of the resolution.
That prompted North Korea on Saturday to vow that it would boost its program to enrich uranium needed for nuclear bombs and threaten war on any country that stops and searches its vessels.
“Canada of course is very, very pleased that the world community has come together in a united response, and to be able to signal to… North Korea the international community’s determination that their recent conduct is unacceptable,” said Cannon.
He said Canada is also pleased the new resolution calls upon North Korea to return immediately to the six-party talks involving South Korea, Russia, China, Japan and the United States that began in 2003.
North Korea walked away from the negotiations aimed at halting its nuclear program in April, after the Security Council condemned its April 5 rocket launch, purportedly for a satellite, that was seen by Canada, the U.S. and other counties as merely a cover for a long-range missile test.