Signalling a new stage of diplomatic action against Iran, Canada suspended all diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic last week.
A Sept. 7 statement by Foreign Minister John Baird said Ottawa had closed its embassy in Iran and declared “personae non gratae all remaining Iranian diplomats in Canada.”
Iranian diplomats were given five days to leave the country as of last Friday.
Canada views the Iranian regime as “the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today.”
Baird also blasted the Iranian regime’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons, its repeated calls for the destruction of Israel, its flagrant Holocaust denial, its abysmal domestic human rights record and its unabashed support of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s ongoing attack on his own people, among other things.
“The Iranian regime is providing increasing military assistance to the Assad regime; it refuses to comply with UN resolutions pertaining to its nuclear program; it routinely threatens the existence of Israel and engages in racist antisemitic rhetoric and incitement to genocide; it is among the world’s worst violators of human rights; and it shelters and materially supports terrorist groups, requiring the government of Canada to formally list Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism under the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act,” Baird said.
Canada also took the opportunity to list Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism.
“The Iranian regime has shown blatant disregard for the Vienna Convention and its guarantee of protection for diplomatic personnel. Under the circumstances, Canada can no longer maintain a diplomatic presence in Iran. Our diplomats serve Canada as civilians, and their safety is our No. 1 priority,” Baird said.
Canada’s surprise move came as the United States, Israel and Iran engaged in sabre-rattling amid an American naval deployment to the Persian Gulf that started late last month, fuelling more speculation that an attack by the West on Iran could be imminent.
In response to the U.S. naval deployment, Iran threatened to park its own naval fleet in international waters just off the U.S. coast, though no actual deployment schedule was given.
But speaking to reporters while in Russia for the at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-Operation Summit on Saturday, Baird said “unequivocally, we have no information about a military strike on Iran.”
Over the weekend, Iran called Ottawa’s decision “hasty and unwise” and said it would react in the near future.
On Monday, the Iranian Mehr news agency quoted Hasan Sobhaninia from Iran’s influential parliament committee on national security and foreign policy as saying that there “is the possibility” of other countries shuttering their embassies in Iran.
Sobhaninia did not say which countries he expects will follow Canada’s example.
Neither Iran nor Canada has had a full ambassador in the other’s capital since 2007, after a breakdown in relations in the wake of Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi being tortured and killed in Iran in 2003. Both countries’ embassies were being headed by lower-level diplomatic officials.
The United States hasn’t had an embassy in Tehran since the hostage crisis of 1979, and Britain's embassy in Tehran has remained closed since it was stormed by protesters last November.
Baird said Canadians in Iran seeking “routine consular or passport services” were told to contact the Canadian embassy in Turkey or any other Canadian mission outside Iran.
Additionally, Ottawa has advised travellers to avoid Iran and reminded Iranian-Canadians that the Iranian regime doesn’t recognize dual citizenship.
“By doing so, Iran makes it virtually impossible for government of Canada officials to provide consular assistance to Iranian-Canadians in difficulty,” Baird said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately praised the Canadian government’s decision, saying Ottawa had “adopted a bold and leader-like step that sends a clear message to Iran and the rest of the world.
“This practical step should serve as an example of morality and international responsibility to the international community. It is important for the international community to join this pressure by setting clear red lines for Iran,” Netanyahu said.
The sentiment was echoed by Israeli President Shimon Peres, who thanked Canada in a Sept. 8 statement for proving that “morals come before pragmatism” and for demonstrating that “policy must reflect principles and values.”
Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Miriam Ziv, also thanked Baird for Canada’s “courageous and principled” stand.
“Prime Minster [Stephen] Harper’s leadership serves as an example to the international community of the bold and moral measures needed to set clear red-lines for Iran,” she said in a statement.
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said his party doesn’t think the move was prudent.
“We are concerned that cutting off diplomatic relations at this time is a symbolic gesture, but unfortunately doesn't achieve any real result in terms of influencing or halting activities of the regime in Iran, activities which deeply concern us all,” he wrote in an e-mail to The CJN.
“The safety of Canadian personnel on the ground in Iran is of the utmost concern. We also must protect our ability to provide consular assistance to Canadian nationals in Iran, including Canadians on death row, and ensure Canada maintains its presence and influence on the world stage.”
Canadian Jewish community organizations all praised the government’s move.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) called it an “appropriate” response to Iran.
“The deteriorating human rights situation domestically, the destructive role it is playing in Syria, the determination it has shown to advance its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons in defiance of the will of the international community and its genocidal pronouncements regarding the Jewish state require the strongest of responses,” Shimon Fogel, CIJA’s CEO said.
“We believe that these developments create a window of opportunity for Canada to move towards listing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity, consistent with Canada’s designation of Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. Such a statement would further isolate Iran and together with the strictest enforcement of a comprehensive sanctions program may be our last chance to avoid the need for military confrontation.”
Frank Dimant, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said “all Canadians of good conscience” should welcome the news.
Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center Canada also commended the government.
“All Canadians should be proud that Canada has taken this ethical stand. It is my profound hope that the leaders of other western democracies will soon follow suit."
Expatriate Iranians in Canada hailed Ottawa’s decision to cut political ties with the Iranian regime.
Iranian ex-pat Reza Akhlaghi, a senior writer and editor specializing in the Middle East with the New York-based Foreign Policy Association, told The CJN that most Iranian-Canadians welcomed the news.
“The vast majority of the Iranian community is overjoyed with the news of the embassy closure, since they have suffered so much from the Iranian government and its policies more than anybody. You can witness the happiness of Iranians all over Facebook,” he said.
There are some 120,000 Canadians of Iranian descent in Canada.
While the move probably won’t affect Tehran in any concrete way, Iran will likely not sit quietly in the face of the insult, Akhlaghi added.
“It will aggravate the leadership with a potential to take revenge against Canadian interests worldwide because it's a major embarrassment for the leadership,” he said.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak called the recent deployment of U.S. forces to the Persian Gulf “impressive” and suggested that the United States is prepared to deal with Iran.
“Israel reserves the right to make sovereign decisions, and the U.S. respects that, but no mistake should be made regarding the impressive scope of the American preparations to deal with the Iranian challenge on all levels,” Barak said on Sept. 6 at a political gathering.
Barak made the comments after he and Netanyahu were briefed by U.S. Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon regarding U.S. preparations for a possible confrontation with Iran.
Barak said last week that while there are differences between the Israeli and U.S. points of view on Iran, “the U.S. is our most important ally. The intelligence co-operation and security backing Israel receives at present is exceptional in its scope.”
With files from JTA and TimesofIsrael.com.