Why did Canada suddenly suspend all diplomatic ties with Iran?

John Baird
On Friday September 7, 2012, John Baird, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced that Canada was suspending all diplomatic relations with Iran and was expelling Iranian diplomats from the country, effective immediately. Additionally, said Baird, Ottawa would officially list Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism under the Canadian Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act. By the time Baird made his announcement, all Canadian diplomats serving in Iran were on their way home. Iranian diplomats in Canada were given five days to leave the country. Relations between the two countries have been rocky since at least 2003, when Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi was killed under detention in Tehran, and Iran has not had a full ambassador in Canada for nearly five years. Still, the news surprised even former government insiders in Canada. Ray Boisvert, until recently Assistant Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, described Ottawa’s move as “unprecedented”. What was it that caused the final rupture in Canadian-Iranian relations? Why expel the Iranian diplomats now? Leading Middle Eastern experts in Canada cannot seem put their finger on a specific reason. Iran observer James Devine, of Canada’s Mount Allison University, told CBS that Ottawa’s move was “not tied to a specific event”. The Canadian former Ambassador to Tehran, John Mundy, said he believed the break in relations was not tied to a direct threat against Canadian interests. But CBS said many Iranian-Canadians believe the drastic move by the Canadian government should be seen as “an immediate sign” of a looming military attack on Iran by Western powers or Israel. In a recent article on the subject, Canadian political analyst Brian Stewart argued that Ottawa’s “overnight liquidation” of its diplomatic relations with Tehran must be rooted in “new intelligence” showing that Iran “absolutely poses a security threat in Canada”.  Stewart also raised the possibility that  Ottawa may have decided to suspend all diplomatic activity in Iran in order to pre-empt diplomatic sanctions by Tehran. Stewart said that Iranian intelligence may have confirmed that the Canadians have been aiding foreign intelligence-gathering efforts by the United States or others in Iran, and may have been preparing to expel Canadian diplomats from the country. Interestingly, just hours after Stewart’s opinion piece, the Associated Press reported that the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency had received “new and significant intelligence” that Iran had moved closer to being able to build a nuclear weapon. The report stated that the intelligence, which confirms Iran has been employing computer simulations of nuclear detonations, had been collected by Israel, the United States, and “at least two other Western countries”.  Meanwhile, reports from Iran say that the government in Tehran expects other Western countries to follow Canada’s example and close their embassies in Tehran this fall.

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