Canada Closes Embassy, Joins Isolation of Iran

Canada shuts its embassy in Tehran and lists Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Prime Ministers Stephen Harper of Canada and Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in Ottawa, March 2
Prime Ministers Stephen Harper of Canada and Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in Ottawa, March 2 (Canadian Prime Minister’s Office)

Canada announced on Friday that it will be closing its embassy in Iran. All Iranian diplomatic staff in Canada will be expelled soon due to ongoing concerns about international security and the safety of embassy personnel currently in Tehran.

The government’s move to affect a political disconnect with Iran came by means of a statement made by the foreign minister, John Baird. It effectively puts Canada on the same level as the United States when it comes to dealings with the Islamic republic — no diplomatic engagement alongside an official position of disapproval.

In the text, Baird lambasted Iranian leaders’ “racist antisemitic rhetoric and incitement of genocide,” a clear allusion to comments directed by religious leaders against the state of Israel. He also cited ongoing support for Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, who is battling an uprising against his regime, and resurgent concerns about restrictions placed on International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors as the primary catalysts of the Canadian decision.

Perhaps most dramatically, Ottawa officially listed Tehran as a state sponsor of terrorism and placed warning based travel restrictions on Canadian nationals seeking to visit the country.

Though it takes away some flexibility of discourse when it comes to Canadian concerns over regional issues concerning Iran, the decision is clearly one that reflects understanding of a broader trend of distancing that is underway in international affairs.

With Iran allegedly closing in on achieving the necessary conditions to build an explosive nuclear device, many countries fear that the security situation in the Middle East may degenerate toward one of instability and crisis. When viewing this potential trend with historical instances of upheaval and anti-foreign assertiveness by Iran, including the storming of American and British embassies at various points in the last three decades, it is easy to see why a country may be inclined to adopt, at minimum, a cautious standoff position.

The wording of Baird’s statement was powerful and indicated strong support of the positions held by Israel and the United States. Most significant, though, is that the move shields Canadian personnel and institutions from political and diplomatic harm in a future crisis to a greater degree than had been possible before.

Canada’s position indicates where the holding point of international actors’ relationships with Iran seem destined to rest.

In recent months, countries across the globe have joined the United States in sanctioning the Islamic regime for its alleged pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability. Neighboring states like Saudi Arabia have indicated a willingness to support Western economic and political action against Tehran, while Asian and European countries have taken the flexible position of counseling for restraint on all fronts.

However, the main question to come out of Ottawa’s decision has to be whether or not protecting the personal security of diplomatic staff is a good enough reason to shut down the lines of communication. Canada’s last ambassador to Iran, John Mundy, asked that very question Monday in a The Globe and Mail piece that challenged the efficacy of the government’s decision.

Mundy argues that Canada has removed itself as a stakeholder in the country, even if it was only able to act in a limited fashion. Following events on the ground in Tehran will become more difficult without dedicated representation there.

Moreover, Ottawa will no longer be able to liaise with new leadership following upcoming elections, something that precludes Canada from being able to offer assessment of issues and candidates to the international community.

Perhaps most importantly, severing diplomatic ties and removing personnel security from the list of concerns that Canada has about Iran merely serves to exacerbate another issue. Officials can no longer lobby for or take action on behalf of Canadian citizens in Iran, including those in prison. And though the country has issued a cautionary statement to its nationals, travel to Iran is still possible and there are a number of dual citizens present in the Islamic republic.

Canada was one of the few remaining Western nations to maintain diplomatic relations with Iran. The choice to isolate it not only removes potential paths for dialogue; it illustrates the international community’s polarization on the issue of Iran’s uranium enrichment program.

After all, since states have historically been reluctant to sever ties with those partners seen as adversarial, Canada’s actions do little to indicate anything other than what many around the world have feared for some time — that the writing, with regard to taking action to stop Iran’s nuclear program, is on the wall.

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