TORONTO – Canada shut its embassy in Tehran on Friday, severed diplomatic relations and ordered Iranian diplomats to leave, accusing the Islamic Republic of being the most significant threat to world peace.
The surprise action reinforces the Conservative governments close ties with Tehrans arch foe Israel but also removes some of Washingtons eyes and ears inside the Iranian capital.
It comes as Irans talks with world powers over its nuclear program have stalled and Israel is weighing the option of a military strike to prevent it from developing atomic weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful objectives only.
The move also underscores the widening gaps between Western countries attempts to isolate and punish Iran and Tehrans efforts to forge closer ties with energy-hungry Asian trading partners such as India and Pakistan to counter Western sanctions.
Irans recent push to bolster and redefine its links with Asia makes the break with Canada a less serious blow to Tehran than it would have been years ago.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said the Canadian embassy in Tehran will close immediately and Iranian diplomats in Canada have been give five days to leave.
A spokesman for Irans foreign ministry, Ramin Mehmanparast, called Canadas decision hasty and extreme, adding that it will soon respond to the actions.
A note in Persian posted on the door of Irans embassy in Ottawa read: Because of the hostile decision by the government of Canada, the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Ottawa is closed and has no choice but to stop providing any consular services for its dear citizens.
Baird said Canada was officially designating Iran a state sponsor of terrorism and offered a long list of reasons for Canadas decision, including Tehrans support for Syrias embattled President Bashar Assad in that countrys civil war.
The Iranian regime is providing increasing military assistance to the Assad regime; it refuses to comply with U.N. resolutions pertaining to its nuclear program; it routinely threatens the existence of Israel and engages in racist anti-Semitic rhetoric and incitement to genocide, Baird said in a statement. It is among the worlds worst violators of human rights; and it shelters and materially supports terrorist groups.
Baird said he also was worried about the safety of diplomats in Tehran after attacks on the British embassy there.
Britain downgraded ties with Iran after an attack on its embassy in Tehran in November 2011, which it insists was sanctioned by the Islamic Republics ruling elite.
After the attack, Britain pulled all of its diplomats out of Iran and expelled Iranian diplomats from U.K. soil.
Canadas break with Iran removes another channel for Washington to get firsthand diplomatic assessments of Iranian affairs.
Canada and Britain had been main conduits of information.