Canada Severs Iran Diplomatic Ties on Terrorism Threat

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government suspended ties with Iran in part due to an increasing risk to his country’s diplomats in the Middle Eastern country.

“This is a regime that, among its many wrongs, does not respect normal practices of diplomatic immunity,” Harper told reporters today in Vladivostok, Russia, where he is attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit. “The risks to our diplomats just keep going up, so ever since last year, we have been scaling down our presence and I think this is the best decision in terms of our ability to protect our people and conduct foreign policy.”

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird made the announcement yesterday at APEC about the suspension of diplomatic ties, saying Canada was designating Iran as a sponsor of terrorism. Canada will close its embassy in Tehran and expel Iranian diplomats from Canada, he said.

Iran is growing increasingly isolated over its nuclear program, with the U.S. and the European Union going beyond four sets of UN sanctions intended to stop the Persian Gulf nation’s nuclear work. EU nations embargoed Iranian oil imports in July and prosecutors are targeting institutions worldwide that use the U.S. financial system to process Iranian transactions.

Harper and Baird cited Iran’s military assistance for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, its refusal to comply with United Nations nuclear resolutions, its threats against Israel and its support for terrorist groups. In an e-mailed statement following his comments to reporters, Baird said Canada has no knowledge of any plans for a military strike against Iran.

‘All Options’

“Its nuclear program, its support for Assad, its anti-Semitism, its support for terrorism, it just becomes worse and worse and worse” in Iran, Harper said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Aug. 1 that time “is running out” for a peaceful solution to Iran’s atomic program. Israeli and U.S. leaders have said repeatedly that “all options are on the table” to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Iran has said its atomic work is intended only for civilian purposes.

“Iran regards the use of nuclear, chemical and similar weapons as a great and unforgivable sin,” Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Aug. 30. “This does not of course mean forgoing our right to pursue use of nuclear power.”

The Swiss embassy has handled American interests in Iran since 1981, a year after the U.S. ended diplomatic relations with Iran following the taking of hostages at its embassy in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution.

‘No Longer Safe’

Baird said that it’s “simply no longer safe to have representatives” in Tehran.

Canada’s decision “sends a clear message to Iran and the entire world,” Netanyahu said in a text message from his office. “Canada’s determination is very important in showing the Iranians that they can’t continue the race for atomic weapons.”

Iran’s rial, linked to the U.S. dollar, plunged last month after the country said it would review its official exchange rate. Iranian inflation has quickened while the economy has come under strain from the sanctions, and oil exports have dropped. Prices of meat, rice and bread have spiraled.

Under a law enacted Dec. 31 in Washington, institutions in nations that don’t win exemptions may be cut off from the U.S. financial system if they settle oil trades with Iran’s central bank. The EU banned the purchase and insurance of Iranian oil from July 1. About 95 percent of the world’s tankers were insured by companies following EU law before the embargo.

Iran, the third-largest supplier in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, is pumping less crude than Iraq for the first time in 20 years, OPEC said Aug. 9 in a monthly report.

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