Italy to represent Canada in Iran after pullout

Italy announced Monday it will protect Canadian interests in Iran following Ottawa's recent severing of diplomatic relations with Tehran, a decision confirmed by Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird.
Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi said his country's embassy will step in to represent Canada in Iran after the Canadian government closed its embassy in Tehran. (Petros Karadjias/Associated Press)

Italy announced Monday it will protect Canadian interests in Iran following Ottawa's recent severing of diplomatic relations with Tehran.

Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi said Canada had made the request after the Sept. 7 closure of the Canadian Embassy in the Iranian capital. Canada branded the Islamic republic as the most significant threat to world peace when it made the move, including ordering Iranian diplomats to leave.

International tensions are running high over suspicions that Tehran is rushing to develop nuclear weapons. Iran, however, insists its nuclear activities are aimed at peaceful purposes like power generation and medical treatment.

The Italian foreign ministry said "it is a decision taken on the basis of the traditional existing relations with an important friendly and allied country." 

Baird confirms Italian representation 

Foreign Minister John Baird repeated the announcement in the House of Commons Monday, adding that the government continues to warn Canadians against travel to Iran.

"Canada conveys its deepest gratitude to the government of Italy for agreeing to provide this valuable assistance," Canadian Baird said.

The Foreign Affairs department similarly praised Italy for "very kindly" agreeing to "serve as Canada's protecting power in Iran," reported CBC's Kady O'Malley.

But not everyone was as enthusiastic about the new arrangement. NDP MP for Ottawa Centre Paul Dewar bristled at the news on Twitter.

"Are you a Canadian in need of consular assistance? Don't bother Ottawa. Call Rome," he wrote.

Baird said his government began assessing its presence in Iran several months ago, especially after Iranian authorities did nothing to stop an incursion against the British Embassy in November.  

Severing ties also boosted Canada's close relationship with Israel, Tehran's arch-enemy. 

Iran called Canada's embassy closure "hasty and unwise" and its parliamentary speaker cancelled a visit to Canada in protest. 

Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran. Canada's break with Tehran took away another channel for Washington to get firsthand diplomatic assessments of Iranian affairs.  

Washington hasn't had diplomatic ties with Tehran since after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, which saw a 444-day siege of hostages in the American Embassy. Canada's then-ambassador to Tehran helped rescue six Americans during the hostage crisis.

That assistance strained Canadian-Iranian relations, which only resumed on the ambassadorial level in 1996. 

Ottawa's relationship with Tehran soured again in 2003 after a photographer with Canadian-Iranian citizenship died in custody following her arrest while taking photographs outside a Tehran prison.