Iran protests closure of Canadian embassy in Tehran
Published Saturday, September 8, 2012 10:56AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, September 8, 2012 10:10PM EDT
Iranian officials have cancelled a planned visit to Canada to protest the Canadian government’s decision to sever diplomatic ties with Iran by closing the embassy in Tehran.
Iranian news agency Fars reported Saturday that the country’s parliamentary speaker had cancelled a planned visit to Canada to protest the new policy.
Ali Larijani’s decision not to attend a late October meeting of parliamentarians from different countries was intended to be a statement against the shutdown, Fars said.
Canada shuttered its embassy in Tehran on Friday, after accusing Iran of being the most significant threat to world peace.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird formally listed the nation as a state sponsor of terrorism on Friday.
Baird cited a number of reasons for Ottawa’s decision, including safety concerns for Canadian diplomats,and Tehran’s continued support for Syrian President Bashar Assad during the 18-month-old violent uprising in that country.
“We just felt at this time it is no longer safe and secure to have these Canadians working there and that weighed heavily on me,” Baird told CTV’s Question Period in an interview to air Sunday.
Ottawa also ordered Iranian diplomats residing in Canada to leave, giving them five days to exit the country.
In response to the expulsion, Tehran's Foreign Ministry called Ottawa’s five-day deadline "unwise." It also said Canada cut diplomatic relations in an "unprofessional, unconventional, and unjustifiable manner while resorting to misusing international law."
Harper: Safety of Canadian diplomats at stake
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Saturday that part of his government’s decision was based on increasing concern for the safety of Canadian diplomats in Iran.
“This is a regime that, among its many wrongs, does not respect normal practices of diplomatic immunity and protection,” Harper told reporters at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vladivostok, Russia.
Harper said he’s become progressively more worried about the safety of Canadian diplomats in Iran since an attack on the British embassy in Tehran last year.
He said the decision allows Canada to better conduct its foreign policy.
“Our ultimate responsibility has to be two-fold: One to protect our people, but the other has to be to be able to speak out about the very grave threat that Iran represents to world peace and security,” Harper said.
In addition to the safety of Canada’s diplomats, Prime Minister Harper said Canada’s political disagreements with Tehran continue to mount.
“Whether it is (Iran’s) nuclear program, its support for Assad, its anti-Semitism, its support for terrorism -- it just becomes worse and worse and worse,” he said.
His comments come after a senior official told CTV News that there was a credible threat to Canadian diplomats in Iran.
Baird, meanwhile, has tried to quell speculation that Ottawa’s decision was a pre-emptive response to a planned Israeli attack on Iran.
Canada’s last few diplomats in Iran left the country Thursday, according to Baird.
Government actions draw criticism and support
The government’s actions drew criticism from both the NDP and the Liberals.
NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar called the government’s actions bizarre and irresponsible.
Dewar said the decision to close the embassy in Tehran scuttles any role Canada might play in soothing Middle East tensions.
"For us to make a difference, we have to be there. We have to show up and now we’re walking away,” he said.
Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae also criticized the move, saying that Ottawa’s actions go against the spirit of diplomacy.
“Simple fact is, we don’t cut diplomatic relations with every country we don’t agree with,” said Rae.
Meanwhile Israel’s Prime Minister praised the decision and many believe the move reaffirms the Harper government’s close ties with Israel.
Canadian-Iranian relations have been strained since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, with the Canadian embassy being closed for eight years following the 1980 U.S. hostage crisis.
During the crisis, Canadians helped getAmerican diplomats out of Tehran.
The two countries eventually resumed normal relations, which became rocky again in 2003 when Canadian-Iranian freelance photographer Zahra Kazemi was killed while in Iranian custody.
Canadadescribed Kazemi’s death as state-sanctioned murder and recalled its ambassador.
Iranians react to embassy closure
The closure of the embassy has put the fate of several Canadians imprisoned in Tehran in limbo.
Antonella Mega’s husband is currently sitting on death row in an Iranian jail.
Hamid Ghassemi-Shall has been imprisoned since 2008 and Mega fears that following this diplomatic dispute, the Iranian government might take out its anger on her husband.
“Obviously I fear there could be reprisals,” she said.
Mega also fears that her efforts to free her husband will suffer now that the embassy has closed.
Meanwhile Iranian-Canadian lawyer Sayeh Hassan said she welcomes Ottawa’s decision.
“Putting an end to the diplomatic relations between Canada and Iran will give a much needed positive boos(t) to the morale of the pro-democracy activists in Iran who are fighting to overthrow this Islamic dictatorship (sic),” she wrote in a statement.
But Fariborz Birjandian, head of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, said he’s getting calls from Iranian immigrants who are worried about the embassy shutdown.
“People have sent…their documents to obtain or renew their passport and they don’t know where those documents are,” he told CTV Calgary.
Since Friday’s swift closure, Canadians seeking guidance from the consulate in Iran are being directed to the embassy in Turkey.
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada has issued an advisory against travel to Iran, warning Canadian travellers may be arbitrarily questioned, arrested and detained.
Foreign Affairs also warned that the recent embassy closure and expulsion of Iranian diplomats could heighten scrutiny of Canadians travelling in Iran.
With files from CTV’s Parliamentary Correspondent Roger Smith, CTV Calgary’s Kari Eyles and The Associated Press