Research Paper: Canada Iran Diplomatic Conflict

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Canada-Iran

On September 7, 2012, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird announced that the country was closing its embassy in Tehran, and the Iranian embassy in Ottawa. The move signified a cessation of the ties between Canada and Iran, and was the culmination of a steady deterioration in relations between the two countries over the course of the last decade. The conflict is rooted in a number of issues, and at present there are significant pragmatic and ideological issues between the two nations that make it difficult to foresee a resolution to this diplomatic conflict at any point in the near future. This paper will outline the nature of the conflict and those impediments to resolution.

History of the Conflict

In general, the relationship between Iran and Western nations has been poor since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and subsequent hostage crisis involving American citizens. The outcome of that event was that the United States ceased diplomatic relations with Iran, setting the tone for poor relations between Iran and all major Western nations. Among those nations, Canada has relatively good relations with Iran for a long time, even when Britain closed its embassy in Tehran. Canada became a haven for Iranians who fled the Islamic regime, and a strong Iranian-Canadian community has been built over time.

The beginning of the current diplomatic tensions between Iran and Canada can be traced directly to the murder of Canadian-Iranian journalist by Iranian authorities in 2003. Zahra Kazemi was arrested and beaten to death, and the Iranian government at first attempted to cover up the murder (De Luce, 2003). That Iran never expressed much of an apology for this crime, and never prosecuted those who gave the orders, has since that point remained an issue in Canada.

The Conservative government of Stephen Harper has been likened to a neoconservative government like that of former U.S. President George W. Bush, with similar ideological lines. While there are significant differences relating to the more liberal nature of Canada in general, the Harper government shares strong tendencies towards a hawkish stance on undemocratic governments like that of Iran, and has also adopted a strongly pro-Israel stance in recent years. The pro-Israel stance puts it directly in opposition to Iran, and as much was cited by Mr. Baird.

Among the reasons cited by Canada for the cessation of diplomatic ties with Iran is the Islamic Republic's "racist, anti-Semitic rhetoric and incitement to genocide," phrasing that directly references statements made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad calling for the annihilation of Israel, the denial of the Holocaust, and Iran's state support for the genocide committed by the Assad government in Syria during that country's 2011-2012 uprising. These statements and events provide evidence that Iran's role in the world is, as Canada contends, a direct threat to world peace.

Of particular contention is the anti-Israel racist rhetoric combined with Iran's nuclear ambitions. The country began its nuclear program during the Shah's era, and restarted by the Islamic Republic after a period of dormancy. By the mid-2000s, there was fear that Iran was only a year or two away from becoming a nuclear power. The sense is that Iran's nuclear ambitions represent an existential threat to Israel, given statements from Iranian leadership and the irrational, dogma-first thinking of the mullahs in charge of the country. Many Western observers do not expect cooler heads to prevail in Iran, given the climate of religious extremism in that country and the lack of checks to extreme behaviour in their political system.

Relevant Parties

While the climate that has nurtured the current conflict has distinct Canadian-Iranian elements, particular with the murder of the journalist, Canada's close allies are also key actors, as is the Assad regime in Syria. None of Canada's closest allies, such as the U.S., the UK and Israel, have diplomatic representation in Iran. Many, including the United States, have called for Iran to be isolated in the world in response to that nation's policies (BBC, 2012). Canada's support for Israel and its opposition to the brutality of the Assad regime position it directly against Iranian interests in the Middle East. Thus, it is natural that Canada would have an antagonistic attitude towards Iran.

Another element of Canada's argument is that Iran is a sponsor of terrorism and does not respect standard conventions with respect to the protection of diplomats. In addition to the U.S. hostage crisis in 1979-1980 and the journalist murder, Canada is also referencing the supply of weapons to Assad in Syria, and implying that protests at Western facilities in Iran are sponsored by the Islamic Republic. Part of this argument consists of accusations that are not necessarily backed up by facts, but that resonate with the other entities that have established antipathy to the Islamic Republic of Iran. The United States, despite losing a key diplomatic ear in Iran, supports Canada's move (BBC, 2012).

Resolution?

At this point, there have been no efforts to resolve the issue. Iran has responded with inflammatory rhetoric and absurd claims, such as the idea that Canada is an unsafe place for Iranians to travel. It is worth noting, however, that in his annual speech to the United Nations and with American media outlets, Ahmedinejad was slightly more reasonable, other than with respect to his hatred of Jews and his strange obsession with homosexuals. Iran appears to have been stung by the Canadian move, and is trying to rebrand itself as a nation that is more civilized than past genocidal rhetoric and repression of internal dissent would indicate.

While there is no diplomatic resolution forthcoming, there may at one point have been one. The initial issue that began the deterioration of Canadian-Iranian relations was the Kazemi murder, and at that point Iran had the opportunity to address the situation in a mature manner. It failed to do so, leaving the Canadians to understand clearly that Iran was a hostile nation incapable of upholding even the most basic of laws. Iran's ongoing attempt to produce weapons of mass destruction also represents a point at which the relationship could have been salvaged. Iran has forced Canada's hand in this situation through its lack of respect for domestic law, international law, human rights, the rights of other nations to exist, and by Iran's involvement in repression internationally, such as in Syria.

Impediments to Resolution

At present, the relationship between Canada and Iran seems beyond repair. Canada is unlikely to have an election before 2015, but even with a new government there is little chance for improved relations. The core issues are not going to be resolved without cooperation of the Iranian government, and there is no indication that this is forthcoming. The Iranian government could have salvaged the relationship by handling the Kazemi murder properly, but after blowing that off it is too late for such a gesture to mean anything to the Canadians. The major issues that this point lie with Iran's nuclear ambitions, its genocidal views of Jewish people and homosexuals, and its support of Syria. While Canada can deal with nations who do not acknowledge the legitimacy of the Israeli state, it cannot deal with Iran, and that makes Iran a special case. Iran needs to cease its support of Assad, and perhaps more importantly it needs to cease its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. There is no indication that it intends to do this, but this is the only way forward for Iran.

Ultimately, resolving this conflict will only come with regime change in Iran. When a regime that bases policy on something other than religious fanaticism is in place, the groundwork for dialogue will have been laid. Indeed, Iran also needs a government that supports human rights, not a government that massacres its own citizens for protesting rigged elections. It is clear that… [END OF PREVIEW]

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