OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada has closed its embassy in Iran and will expel all Iranian diplomats in Canada within five days, Foreign Minister John Baird said on Friday, denouncing Tehran as the biggest threat to global security.
“Diplomatic relations between Canada and Iran have been suspended,” Baird said.
He cited Iran’s nuclear program, its hostility toward Israel and Iranian military assistance to the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, which is locked in civil war with rebels. He also said Iran was a state sponsor of terrorism.
Canada’s move was swiftly applauded by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has strongly warned of the danger of a growing threat from Iran.
Baird accused Iran of showing blatant disregard for the safety of foreign diplomats. “Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today,” he said in a statement.
“Under the circumstances, Canada can no longer maintain a diplomatic presence in Iran,” he said, declaring that Iran had shown “blatant disregard” for the Vienna Convention’s guarantee of protection for diplomats.
Ottawa has long had poor relations with Iran, in part because of its enmity toward close Canadian ally Israel.
“I wish to congratulate (Canadian) Prime Minister Stephen Harper who has made a bold leadership move that sends a clear message to Iran and to the entire world,” Netanyahu said in a statement from Jerusalem.
“The determination shown by Canada is of great importance in order for the Iranians to understand that they cannot go on with their race toward nuclear arms. This practical step must set an example of international morality and responsibility to the international community,” he said.
The United States has not had a functioning embassy in Tehran since the 1979-81 hostage crisis, when 52 Americans were held for 444 days. Britain’s embassy in Tehran has been closed since it was stormed by protesters last November.
During the hostage crisis, the Canadian embassy in Tehran sheltered six U.S. diplomats who had avoided capture, and then helped them leave Iran with Canadian passports in January 1980. The Canadian embassy then closed, reopening only in 1988.
Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Vicki Allen and David Storey