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News | Report: Canada Shut Embassy Fearing US-Israeli Strike, Mob Retaliation

by PAUL MUTTER

12 Sep 2012 20:05Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Any views expressed are the authors' own. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

IranEmbassy.jpg8:05 p.m. IRDT, 22 Shahrivar/September 12 The Globe and Mail reports that "Canadian diplomats who were on the ground in Tehran supported the move" to close the Canadian Embassy there last Friday, because of fear that in the event of an attack by Israel or the United States, it would be targeted by mobs in the same way that the U.S. Embassy was in 1979 and the British Embassy was last November:
Canadian officials cited a range of reasons for the extraordinary decision to expel all Iranian diplomats from Ottawa and close the mission in Tehran, chief among them the threat to the security of Canadian personnel, particularly if Israel or the United States should launch an attack on Iran in an effort to eliminate Tehran's alleged nuclear-weapons program.

"With no American embassy in Tehran and the British embassy closed, the next most likely target for retaliation would have been the Canadians," said a former government official with experience in Iran.

That is why, these officials say, there was no objection from the Canadian diplomats when the order to evacuate came down, especially since the mission was serving no practical purpose anyway.

In addition, Canada is preparing to officially designate the Islamic Republic as a state sponsor of terrorism. Reuters quoted a Canadian government spokesman as saying that "Canada wants to be able to continue to speak up on the Iranian regime's behavior, and we didn't want our guys in there as hostage." Ironically, the embassy's closure seems to have emboldened supporters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran and the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO) in Canada to press their campaign to have the MKO delisted as a foreign terrorist organization.

Weighing the question of how the Islamic Republic might respond to his government's decision to severe relations, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated, "Do I anticipate specific actions? No, not necessarily, but as I say, we should all know by now that this is a regime that does not stop at anything. So that's just the reality of the situation."

Did intelligence on Iran activities in Canada prompt diplomatic cutoff?

While much of the discussion around the Canadian move has revolved around fears of an impending U.S.-Israeli attack, CBC commentator Brian Stewart says he believes that "Harper acted on new intelligence. But the warnings were likely more about the Iranian embassy activities in Canada than they were about the safety of our personnel abroad."

Citing Congressional testimony from James Clapper -- who as director of national intelligence is the titular head of the U.S. intelligence community -- Stewart asserts that the expansion of Iranian "cultural centers" throughout the Americas over the past decade is aimed at inserting Iranian agents into the region for covert operations and either recruiting or harassing Iranian nationals in the hemisphere.

Canadian Iranian opponents of the Islamic Republic's government have cited continual harassment from regime supporters and efforts by Iranian security services to infiltrate spies into the 120,000-strong diaspora community. Such reports of infiltration and intimidation of Iranian nationals in the Americas by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have been strenuously denied by Iran. It is not clear if Canada's decision to shutter its immigration bureau in Tehran over the summer was tied to any specific threats against Canadian nationals, but it is likely the closure was a prelude for the departure of the few remaining Canadian diplomats from Iran this month.

Canada's last ambassador to Iran: Rationale for severing relations "not convincing"

For the most part, Canadian commentators, such as Kenneth Taylor, a former diplomat to Iran who worked with U.S. intelligence to spirit Americans out of the country in 1979, and opposition politicians have said they are baffled by the timing of the embassy closures. In an op-ed that appeared in the Globe and Mail, John Mundy, Canada's last ambassador to the Islamic Republic, wrote,

Canada's reasons for acting so suddenly are not convincing. The Prime Minister has listed Iran's terrible human rights record, its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, its provocative nuclear program and its repeated threats against Israel as reasons to leave. These are actually reasons why we should stay. When the going gets rough you really need your diplomats. Canada's tradition is to be one of the last countries to leave in a crisis, not the first.

Mundy was the third Canadian ambassador appointed to Iran in a contentious three-year period following the 2004 death of Canadian Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in Tehran police custody. Two intelligence officers were charged over her murder -- the Canadian government and Iranian prosecutors found she had been tortured in detention -- but both agents were eventually acquitted by the courts by 2005. Appointed to the post in April 2007, Mundy was expelled from Tehran that December over Ottawa's refusal to accept Iran's ambassadorial nominees due to their suspected involvement in the 1979 U.S. hostage crisis.

Mundy has been critical of the Harper government's policy toward Iran, which he says isolates human rights activists there and increases the odds of military action by the United States and Israel. In an opinion piece published last week, he argued that "Canada can play a bigger role in enhancing the cohesion and unity of the international community at a time when it's essential for Iran to engage in meaningful negotiations to resolve the crisis." Mundy told Canada AM that the embassy closure bodes ill for a negotiated solution to the nuclear question, and for the fate of three Canadian nationals imprisoned in Iran.

The three jailed Canadian nationals are Hossein Derakhshan, Hamid Ghassemi Shall, and Saeed Malekpour. Derakhshan, a controversial weblogger who helped bring the platform blogger.com to Farsi speakers in Iran and the diaspora in the early 2000s was jailed by the Islamic Republic in 2008 for "collaborating with the enemy." Shall was sentenced to death on a spurious charge of espionage following his return to Iran in 2008 to visit his mother. Malekpour is also under a death sentence because a program he designed was found in use by an "adult website." Some of Malekpour's supporters welcomed the embassy closure as a way of sending a message to Tehran that Canada would pursue his release more forcefully.

According to the National Post, Prime Minister Harper told reporters that "Canada will keep trying to aid its citizens in Iran -- including three on death row -- with the help of its partners and allies," though the Post adds that "Mr. Harper did not hold out much hope that anything significant could be accomplished" for the three men. Harper's supporters have dismissed Mundy's remarks as out-of-touch commentary from an ex-diplomat.

Iran: Canada's government "extremist," "racist"

Iranian officials have attempted to play down the embassy closure in Tehran, and the announcement by Harper's government that all of Iran's diplomatic personnel must leave Canada within five days, while also rounding on Canadian officials. That the government of Israel has praised Canada's decision to close the embassies has only produced more strident denunciations from Iranian officials. Majles Speaker Ali Larijani has cancelled a prescheduled visit to Canada, and Iran's state-run media has denounced Canada's "extremist" and "racist" government.

Most commentaries by politicians in Iran have been dismissive of the diplomatic break between the two countries, and Fars News Agency reports that the Foreign Ministry's position is that "the issues they have raised are completely irrelevant and merely endanger their own national interests." According to the Mehr News Agency, however, parliamentarian Hasan Sobhaninia said there is concern "other countries might also now close their offices in Tehran."

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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