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Comment: Embassy closure a hardship for Iranian-Canadians

Cutting ties leaves Canada out of diplomatic loop for negotiations

When the announcement was made of the closure of the Canadian embassy in Tehran, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation leaders' summit in Vladivostok, Russia. Instead of trying to convince Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to apply some pressure for a compromise deal with Iran, Harper shut all doors to a Canadian-led diplomatic solution in the region.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who was also in Russia at the time, announced the reasons for cutting diplomatic ties include Iran's support for Syrian President Bashar alAssad, Iran's alleged "dishonesty" in its dealing with the International Atomic Energy Agency over its nuclear dossier, Iran's support of groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rhetoric directed at Israel.

While the closure of the embassies in Ottawa and Tehran does not solve any of those problems, it will create unnecessary hardship for Canadians of Iranian origin.

Sour relations between the two countries are not new. After several disputes, ambassador-level ties with Iran have been cut off since 2007, leaving the embassy to chargés d'affaires.

Canada is home to the world's second-largest Iranian diaspora after the U.S. According to the 2006 census, 121,505 people reported Iranian ancestry, a significant jump from five years earlier, when 88,220 people gave Iranian as their response to the ethnic-origin question.

Commuting back and forth for family or business visits is common among the Iranian community. I returned from Iran to Canada in August after a family visit. For one reason or another, visits to the Canadian embassy always come up during my trips.

Almost all Canadians of Iranian origin have dual nationality, a privilege allowed in the Canadian constitution. Contact with the Iranian embassy in Ottawa and Canadian embassy in Tehran was the only way of sorting out bureaucratic work, such as renewing passports.

Now Iranian-Canadian citizens have no such means any more, and a big question looms over the community on how to sort out legal matters.

There is always a silver lining hiding behind the darkest black clouds. Italy announced Monday that it will protect Canadian interests in Iran. Italian Foreign Minister Riulio Terzi said Canada had made the request after the Sept. 7 closure of the Canadian embassy in the Iranian capital. A similar move can be expected from Iran in the near future.

A week after the Canadian pullout of its embassy staff in Tehran, warships from around the world gathered in the Persian Gulf in what is described as the most widely attended international naval exercise ever in the Middle East.

More than 20 per cent of the world's oil supply passes through the 50kilometre-wide Strait of Hormuz. In this narrow strait, the U.S. and Iran have a large military presence. With the two arch-enemies in such close proximity and the ongoing military exercises, the chances of a naval accident are high.

Recently, the Bahrainbased U.S. Fifth Fleet said a Panamanian-flagged, Japanese-owned bulk oil tanker collided with a U.S. Navy ship near the Strait of Hormuz. No injuries or serious damage resulted.

With Israel constantly threatening a military strike on Iran, Tehran vowing revenge and the U.S. and allies' military exercises in full swing, the possibility of a military confrontation is real and should not be taken lightly.

The best-case scenario is a face-saving diplomatic compromise on all sides. However, any chance of an initiative led by Canada toward a peaceful solution in the region is out of question because Canada is out of the diplomacy loop.

Salman A. Javid is a journalist who came to Canada after the revolution and the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq. He now lives in Victoria.