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Embassies keep open lines of communication
Embassies keep open lines of communication
Michael Byers
December 3, 2006
Diplomats are like umbrellas. You only need them when it rains. The sun stopped shining on Canadian-Iranian relations in 1980 when our ambassador, Ken Taylor, helped six Americans escape the hostage-taking at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The downpour began in July 2003, when Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi was raped and killed in Iranian custody. Canada responded by sponsoring a UN resolution that expressed "serious concern" about human rights in Iran. The same resolution has been adopted every year since. Last week, in retaliation, Iran announced it would investigate whether Canada's embassy has been used for spying. It's in situations such as these when our embassy is needed most. Since Tehran does not recognize attempts to renounce Iranian citizenship, tens of thousands of Canadians are also Iranian citizens. Now, when they travel to Iran to visit family or friends, they find themselves at considerable risk. Having an embassy enables Canada to intervene promptly when something goes wrong. In April 2006, Canadian academic Ramin Jahanbegloo was arrested in Tehran. He was later released, after repeated requests from Canadian diplomats. An embassy also creates opportunities to help the citizens of other countries. In 1944, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis. What would have happened to those people if Sweden had decided to close its embassy in Budapest? Canada has already been reducing contact with Iran. Since May 2005, our diplomats have only been allowed to deal with their Iranian counterparts on matters concerning Canadian citizens, human rights, and nuclear proliferation. Today, we don't even have an ambassador in Tehran. The diplomacy has been left to more junior envoys who don't exert much influence. Our embassy is particularly important because the United States severed all diplomatic and commercial relations with Iran in 1980. As a result, Washington has very little leverage there. That's why European countries have taken the lead on negotiations concerning Iran's nuclear program, and why the U.S. pushed hard for the UN to become involved. But there's no guarantee that either the Europeans or the UN will succeed. In that event, the world might need a well-respected middle power to step into the gap — especially since the alternative might then be war. Last month, Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker that U.S. strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities remain a real possibility. President George W. Bush began rattling sabres over Iran shortly after the 2003 Iraq War, referring to the Iranian government as an "outlaw regime." In January 2005, The New Yorker reported that U.S. commandos were already in Iran pinpointing underground nuclear facilities. Fortunately, there are those who favour a different approach. Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker has suggested that negotiations with Iran are now necessary. As Winston Churchill said, "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war." That's why, instead of closing the Canadian embassy, we should appoint an ambassador immediately, and let that person do their job. When it rains, only fools get wet.
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