Canada cuts ties with Iran, closes embassy, orders Iranian diplomats home

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia – Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has severed Canadian ties with Iran over its sponsorship of terrorism and amid fears about the safety of diplomats in the country.

Baird says the Canadian embassy in Tehran will close immediately and Iranian diplomats in Canada have been given five days to leave.

The skeleton staff that was operating Canada’s Tehran mission has already fled the country.

Baird says he’s worried about the safety of diplomats in Tehran following recent attacks on the British embassy there.

“The Iranian regime has shown blatant disregard for the Vienna Convention and its guarantee of protection for diplomatic personnel,” he said.

“Under the circumstances, Canada can no longer maintain a diplomatic presence in Iran. Our diplomats serve Canada as civilians and their safety is our No. 1 priority.”

He also condemned the regime as a sponsor of terrorism.

“Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today,” he said.

He recited a litany of complaints about Iran, including its support for the Assad regime in Syria, its nuclear program, its threats to Israel and its abysmal human rights record.

“The Iranian regime is providing increasing military assistance to the Assad regime,” Baird said.

“It refuses to comply with United Nations resolutions pertaining to its nuclear program. It routinely threatens the existence of the state of Israel, and engages in racist anti-Semitic rhetoric and incitement to genocide.”

Foreign Affairs is also warning ordinary Canadians to avoid any travel to Iran.

People seeking Canadian consular services in Iran are being directed to the embassy in Turkey.

Canada’s relations with Iran have been iffy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. After Canadians spirited American diplomats out of Tehran in 1980 during the post-revolution hostage crisis, the Canadian embassy was closed for eight years.

The two countries slowly moved back to normal diplomatic relations with an exchange of ambassadors in 1996.

But the relationship chilled in 2003 after Zahra Kazemi, a freelance photographer with dual Canadian-Iranian citizenship, was killed in custody in Iran in what Canada described as a state-sanctioned murder. Canada recalled its ambassador.

Baird announced the severing of ties with Iran in the early hours of Saturday, Russia time, after meeting the foreign ministers of the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum ahead of the leaders’ summit set for this weekend.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrived in Vladivostok late Friday for what is expected to be a trade-focused summit. But security issues appear set to dominate the discussion.

Baird also registered Canada’s displeasure over Russia’s continued support for the regime in Syria in a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.

“I’ve already had a meeting with my Russian counterpart and I did so in no uncertain terms,” said Baird.

Russia has blocked UN Security Council resolutions that would have sanctioned the Assad regime, which has been trying to put down an 18-month uprising.

Baird confirmed that Canadian diplomat Mokhtar Lamani will head the Damascus office of Lakhdar Brahimi, the new UN-Arab League envoy to Syria.

Lamani is a Canadian of Moroccan origin who has already served as a special Arab League envoy to Iraq.

Brahimi took over as envoy to Syria this month, succeeding Kofi Annan who resigned in frustration over failed efforts to end the Syrian civil war.

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