OTTAWA: Canada closed its Tehran embassy and expelled Iranian diplomats on Friday, expressing concern for the mission's safety and slamming Iran's support for the Syrian regime and its threats against Israel.
“Canada's position on the regime in Iran is well known. Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said.
“Diplomatic relations between Canada and Iran have been suspended. All Canadian diplomatic staff have left Iran, and Iranian diplomats in Ottawa have been instructed to leave within five days,” he added, in a statement.
Canada did not cite a specific incident that caused the breakdown in ties, but issued a strongly worded attack on Tehran's support for Bashar al-Assad's pariah Syrian regime and its “incitement to genocide” against Israel.
Baird also attacked Tehran's failure to account for its nuclear program, which Western powers allege is designed to give Iran a nuclear bomb, and accused the “Iranian regime” of promoting international terrorism.
He also warned Canadians, including dual national Canadian-Iranians, that Ottawa will not be able to provide assistance to them if they travel to Iran.
There was no immediate reaction from Tehran, but Iran had already threatened “reciprocal action” in May, when Canada closed the visa section in its Iranian embassy, one used by thousands of Iranians with ties to Canada.
An estimated 120,000 people of Iranian origin or descent live in Canada, according to official 2006 census data, and thousands of their relatives in Iran visit them every year.
But ties between the governments are far from warm.
In July, Ottawa warned Iran not to recruit agents in Canada after an Iranian envoy was quoted urging Iranian-Canadians to “occupy high-level key positions” and to “resist being melted into the dominant Canadian culture.”
Ties have also been strained by Tehran's treatment of Iranian-born Canadians who travelled to visit their homeland. Iran does not recognize dual nationality and authorities have denied Canadian detainees consular protection.
In April, Baird spoke out to demand clemency for a Canadian-Iranian citizen, 42-year-old Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, who was detained in Iran on suspicion of espionage in 2009 and has subsequently been sentenced to death.
But Friday's stark statement marked a more definitive breakdown in ties.
“The Iranian regime is providing increasing military assistance to the Assad regime,” Baird said.
“It refuses to comply with UN resolutions pertaining to its nuclear program; it routinely threatens the existence of Israel and engages in racist anti-Semitic rhetoric and incitement to genocide,” the statement continued.
“It is among the world's worst violators of human rights and it shelters and materially supports terrorist groups.
“Moreover, 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 number one priority,” he said.
The statement advised Canadians in Iran needing consular assistance to try to contact the Canadian mission in Turkey.
Iran, which has been ruled by an Islamic theocracy since the 1979 uprising against the former Persian monarchy, is locked in a diplomatic stand-off with the West over its nuclear program.
Tehran insists it has a right to enrich nuclear fuel in order to power civilian nuclear energy and research, but Washington, Israel and their allies claim it is seeking nuclear weapons capability.
Israel, which has an undeclared nuclear weapons program of its own, has made it clear that it would launch military strikes sooner than see its main enemy in the Middle East attain such a goal.
Iran has done nothing to reduce tensions, and its leaders regularly issue threats to destroy Israel or to disrupt oil shipping in the Gulf. Tehran is also the main foreign backer of Assad's brutal Syrian regime.