Tehran’s hosting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit last month, viewed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a “humiliating defeat” for the West’s attempts to isolate Iran, was likely the real reason behind Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision, said foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast.
The Mehr news agency and Tehran Times quoted him as accusing Canada’s “current racist government” of following the dictates of Israel – Iran’s number one foe – and of Britain, whose relations with Iran have been severely strained since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009.
Mehmanparast charged that Canada had made “extensive efforts” to try to scuttle the NAM summit, but failed “due to the rebuff from countries and international figures” – an apparent reference to U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, who participated in the meeting.
“The current government of Canada under the leadership of Mr. Stephen Harper is known for extreme policies in the domain of foreign policy,” the spokesman said.
Parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani called Canada’s action “disrespectful.”
“They are in a state of confusion after seeing a gathering of a majority of the world states in Tehran [for the NAM summit],” he told a parliamentary session on Sunday.
The presence of representatives from more than 100 countries had sent a strong message to “bullying powers,” Larijani said, recalling that the NAM leaders in a communique had expressed support for Iran’s activities “in the field of peaceful use of nuclear technology.”
Despite the show of bravado, Iran is evidently struggling as a result of Western-led measures targeting it over its nuclear activities. Iranian media reported Sunday that the country’s currency, the rial, had dropped to a record low against the U.S. dollar in street trading. A day earlier, European Union foreign ministers meeting in Cyprus discussed the possibility of imposing additional sanctions on Iran.
On Friday, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said the government was suspending diplomatic relations with Iran, closing its embassy in Tehran, and giving Iranian diplomats in Ottawa five days to leave.
“Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today,” he said.
Baird attributed the decision to Iran’s defiance of United Nations resolutions regarding its nuclear program, threats against Israel, support for terrorist groups, human rights abuses at home, and military assistance to Syria’s Assad regime.
He cited concerns about the safety of diplomats based in Iran too, saying “the Iranian regime has shown blatant disregard for the Vienna Convention and its guarantee of protection for diplomatic personnel.”
Ottawa also designated Iran as a state-sponsor of terrorism, and advised Canadian citizens to avoid traveling there.
In response to the Canadian decision, Larijani canceled a planned trip to Quebec, where he was due to attend an international parliamentary gathering next month. Other lawmakers indicated that Iran would respond in “decisive” but unspecified ways.
In his announcement Friday, Baird did not elaborate on the perceived risk to Iran-based diplomats, but last November protestors stormed and ransacked the British Embassy and diplomatic compound in Tehran. The attack, which came two days after Iranian lawmakers in a vote demanded the expulsion of the British ambassador, prompted Britain to withdraw diplomats and close the embassy, although it stopped short of severing ties.
“The U.K. has not cut diplomatic ties with Iran, although they remain at the lowest level consistent with the maintenance of diplomatic relations,” says the Foreign Office in London.
The United States has not had diplomatic ties with Tehran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, when regime-backed Islamists seized the U.S. Embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
‘Principles and values’
In a commentary, the semi-official Fars news agency slammed Canada’s decision.
“[S]uch a blind commitment to Israel and/or self-defeating policy goes against the international law, leaving us with no other option but to argue that the Zionist lobbyists as well as warmongers in Washington and London are directly involved in the Canadian government’s senseless move to sever ties with Tehran,” it said.
Israel’s ceremonial president, Shimon Peres, thanked Canada for the decision to suspend ties, voicing the “hope that other nations will see Canada as a moral role model.”
“Canada has proven once again that morals come before pragmatism,” he said in a statement. “Canada has demonstrated that policy must reflect principles and values.”
To the annoyance of some blocs at the United Nations – and the discomfort of some liberals at home – the Harper government has regularly taken stances viewed by critics as being at odds with diplomatic custom or overly supportive of Israel.
As a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council from 2006-2009 it clashed frequently with Islamic states and other non-democratic members, on some occasions voting alone against resolutions it opposed (while European democracies chose to abstain.)
Canada was the first country to declare it would boycott two U.N. racism conferences – in Geneva in 2009 and in New York last year – part of the “Durban” process that controversially singled out Israel for condemnation.
It drew criticism in 2010 for announcing it would no longer fund the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian refugees, saying it would instead direct the money directly to projects such as food aid, in line with “Canadian values.”
Last July, Canada alone boycotted a U.N.-linked Conference on Disarmament to protest North Korea’s appointment as rotating president. The Obama administration, by contrast, questioned the significance of the North Korean leadership post and said it would not make a “big deal” about it.
In a U.N. General Assembly vote in the fall of 2010, Canada lost a bid for a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council. Some critical Canadian analysts attributed the defeat to an insufficiently “progressive” foreign policy and payback by countries unhappy with Ottawa’s approach.