Canada, Iran and "Controlled Engagement:" A new start with Afghanistan?

Bookmiller, Robert J.
January 2011
Canadian Foreign Policy (CFP);2011, Vol. 17 Issue 1, p23
Academic Journal
While Canada will end its combat mission in Afghanistan this year, Ottawa's commitment to provide military trainers, its continued development and humanitarian assistance programs as well as on-going support for its NATO allies means that formulating a long-term Afghan strategy remains paramount. Given that Canada and its international partners support a regional approach to resolving the Afghan conflict, Kabul's neighbors - including Iran - will need to be involved in the process. As such Ottawa will have to revisit its own often fraught relationship with Tehran. Since 1996, Canadian foreign policy toward Iran has been framed by a strategy known as "Controlled Engagement." This policy limits the level of official contacts between the two states as well as the issues that Ottawa will put on the table for discussion. One of the permissible topic areas is "Iran's role in the region." DFAIT has interpreted this phrase to include Afghanistan. In other words, the Canadian Government would not have to alter its stated policy to dialogue publicly with Iran. This article argues that Afghanistan provides a shared and meaningful diplomatic space in which Canada, its allies and Iran can cooperate. Further, while operating within pre-existing governmental guidelines, Canadian-Iranian interaction on Afghanistan may also provide a window for rebuilding other aspects of their currently troubled bilateral relationship.


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