As concern for the potential of an Iranian nuclear weapons program or for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities permeates our national conversation, United States leadership has continually been vocal in its support for prioritizing diplomacy over military action (while promising that “all options are on the table”). But now that Canada has shut its embassy in Tehran, prospects of real diplomatic progress look bleak.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper thought it was in his country’s best interest to terminate relations with Iran, citing immediate security concerns for Canadian diplomats in Tehran and the global threat posed by Ahmedinijad’s government. Speaking on the heels of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Russia, the Prime Minister offered, “We have terminated our diplomatic presence there precisely because we are concerned by the behavior and the capacity for increasingly bad behavior of the government of Iran.” Adding to Canada’s condemnation of Iranian politics, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird designated Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, explaining, “The Iranian regime is providing increasing military assistance to the Assad regime; it refuses to comply with UN resolutions pertaining to its nuclear program; it routinely threatens the existence of Israel and engages in racist anti- Semitic rhetoric and incitement to genocide.”
Canada’s decision to sever ties with Iran has been well received by Israeli officials. In an interview with CBC, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu praised Canadian action, explaining, “We have to build a wall, not of silence, but of condemnation and resolve. Canada just put a very big brick in that wall that is necessary for the peace of the world.” While this move is new for Canada, the United States has not maintained an embassy in Iran since the 1979-1981 Iranian Hostage Crisis.
In response to Canada’s retreat, Iranian officials are questioning the impetus for Prime Minister Harper to cut ties, and are vowing retaliation, claiming that Canadian action was the result of “Zionist” pressure. The nature of this threat is unclear, but according to Alaeddin Boroujerdi, an Iranian politician who chairs the parliamentary committee on National Security and Foreign Policy, “It is essential that the foreign ministry respond to this action by Canada on the basis of national interests.” One fear is that the Iranian government will retaliate against Canadian citizens currently held in Iranian prisons. Prime Minister Harper has vowed to continue to fight on behalf those imprisoned in spite of the diplomatic retreat, detailing “We will continue both from Ottawa, through our partners and allies to continue to advocate on behalf of Canadians who have those kinds of difficult consular situations, legal situations in Iran”
Whether Iran will follow through on its threatening response to Canada’s diplomatic maneuver is an open inquiry, however the recent turn of events calls into question the realistic potential of diplomatic avenues for peace. With its withdrawal, Canada effectively cut off any chance of diplomatic success, and is left only with a short list of actions endorsed by the international community or with military force. And if more countries follow in Canada’s footprints, as expected, the international community may see fewer peaceful options on the table. As the United States continues to tow diplomatic solutions in an effort to prevent war, the loss of an ally on the ground is certainly a troubling impediment in the road to peace. May we only hope that Canada’s decision was more strategic than conceding in nature.
The threat of a nuclear Iran is dangerous not only to Israel but to global security. Yet, real and potential equal threats rest in a possible Israeli strike on the Iranian nuclear program. As Jeffrey Goldberg outlines, the potential efficacy (or inefficacy) of such an attack, the potential deaths that might arise from it, and threats of retaliation must all be questioned.
As world powers, including the U.S. and Canada, respond to Israel’s claim that talks have failed, we at RACblog will continue to keep an eye on the impact of economic sanctions and diplomatic avenues and track the possibilities of a nuclear Iran, a preemptive strike on its facilities, or any number of other possibilities.
Image courtesy of The New Republic