John Baird’s surprise decision to pull the plug on diplomatic relations with Iran is a decision that was long overdue. But it is a principled decision against a pariah regime that sends the simple message: Enough is enough.
The fact that Baird made the announcement on his way to Vladivostok just before the APEC summit struck some as impulsive and has prompted widespread speculation that Canada has received secret warnings about an impending Israeli attack on Iran. An attack may be imminent given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s publicly expressed fears about a fast closing window to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But it is unlikely Israel would share its strategic intentions with us notwithstanding Ottawa’s close ties with Jerusalem. It would have little to gain by doing so.
Still, Baird may be shrewd enough to see the writing on the wall and the risk posed to our diplomats as tougher sanctions take another bite out of a regime that has flaunted every accepted norm and principle of civilised nations, including the principle of diplomatic immunity.
Iran’s ayatollahs threw such diplomatic niceties aside a long time ago when, at their instigation, student protestors stormed the American embassy in Tehran and kept U.S. diplomats hostage in a saga that sealed the fate of the Carter presidency. Their contempt for diplomacy was reaffirmed when a mob of “students” attacked the British embassy and diplomatic compound at Gulhak Garden last November and all its leaders could summon was phoney expressions of “regret.”
Canada’s relations with Tehran have been on the skids for a long time. Its leaders showed no remorse for the brutal murder of the Iranian-born Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi. Tehran has consistently refused to recognize Canadian passports held by those who are Iranian born.
The argument by some that Ottawa should maintain its diplomatic presence so that it can serve the interests of Iranian Canadians when they travel to Iran holds no water. Our diplomats in Tehran have consistently had the door slammed in their faces when they tried to act on behalf of Canadians who ran afoul of the regime.
The simple message to all expats must be: “Don’t go back. Your lives may be at risk.” And those who parlay the old saw that Canada can play the “honest broker” between Tehran and Washington are little red riding hoods. Think Chamberlain at Munich not Pearson at the UN on this one.
There is a time to talk and a time to be tough. This is a time to be tough. That is because talk with Iran’s regime has been cheapened by its constant prevarications and deceptions.
There is every indication that Iran has been secretly smuggling uranium and centrifuge technology to produce enough weapons grade fissile material to build a bomb. The IAEA has sounded the tocsin more than once that Iran is not coming clean when its inspectors try to look under the hood. The arrest last month in Germany of four individuals charged with smuggling special valves for a heavy water reactor the Iranians are trying to build at Arak is yet another instance of Iran’s deception.
Iran is also a well known sponsor of terrorist attacks in other countries including by its proxies like Lebanon-based Hezbollah. It has carried out assassinations abroad against prominent critics of its regime. It is trying to destabilize Turkey through its support for the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). There has been a major upsurge in attacks by the PKK in those provinces where there are large Kurdish communities. Iran’s unflinching support for Bashar Assad, the ruthless despot of Syria, shows that it plays for keeps and doesn’t give a fig about human rights and basic liberties. This alone should give pause to those who assert we must still maintain ties with Tehran. To what end or purpose and according to what principle?
We also tend to forget that the “great awakening” against the despots of the Islamic world began, but was stillborn, in the streets of Tehran in 2009-10 following President Ahmadinejad’s disupted election. When those streets ran red with the blood of Iran’s youth and others who had courageously risen up against the regime, the West could have done more to support Iran’s champions of freedom, human rights, and democracy.
This Iranian regime flouts all basic principles of diplomacy and human rights. It deserves to be isolated and sanctioned. Canada has little leverage on the security concerns, which are most acute, but our decision to suspend diplomatic relations is correct in principle and more powerful than hand-wringing. Those who cherish the values we live by at home should applaud actions that respect those values. Talk alone is just that.