Israeli PM praises Canada for cutting ties with Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an exclusive interview with CBC's The National, says he is grateful for Canada's "conviction" in suspending diplomatic relations with Iran.

Other countries should follow Ottawa's lead, Netanyahu tells CBC

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he hopes other countries will follow the example set by Canada, which on Friday broke off diplomatic relations with Iran, as the international community looks to head off Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Praising the surprise move by Ottawa as a "clarion call to action," Netanyahu said world leaders must do more to condemn Iran's undertakings, including its threats against Israel.

"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," he said.

Netanyahu made the comments in an exclusive interview with CBC's The National, which aired Sunday night.

Netanyahu added he is in talks with the U.S. about how further pressure can be applied against Iran, and repeated his recent call for diplomats to establish "a clear red line" that Tehran cannot cross if war is to be avoided.

"Iran will not stop unless it sees clear determination by the democratic countries of the world and a clear red line," Netanyahu told CBC's Wendy Mesley. "I don't think that they see a clear red line, and I think the sooner we establish one, the greater the chances that we won't need other types of action."

Pressuring Obama

Netanyahu has been seeking greater co-operation from the U.S. in particular, having reportedly grown frustrated with what Israel sees as foot-dragging on Iran by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama. Top U.S. officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta visited Israel during the summer, and Netanyahu has reportedly been pressuring Obama to establish a threshold for military action against Iran. The U.S. has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since its 1979 Islamic revolution.

Concerns have been mounting that Israel could attack Iran, looking to set back what is suspected to be the possible development of a nuclear weapon. Iran insists its nuclear research is for peaceful purposes. 

A recent story in the New York Times said the Obama administration is taking "a range of steps short of war" to prevent such an attack. The U.S. military has a less distressed view of Iran than Israel's defence forces, with unclassified portions of the Pentagon's most recent report to Congress saying Iran's military strategy "remains focused on deterring an attack." However, the report acknowledges Iran is developing "technical capabilities that could be applied to the production of nuclear weapons" and has ballistic missiles "to target Israel."

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird on Friday announced Canada had closed its embassy in Iran and instructed Iranian diplomats in Ottawa to leave the country within five days.

In response, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman called the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper hostile and racist, and accused it of doing the bidding of Israel and Britain, according to Iran's Mehr news agency.

Iran's parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, has cancelled a planned visit to Canada to protest the embassy closure, according to the Fars news agency.

'Forthright stand'

Netanyahu said Israel did not know Canada was about to break off ties with Iran, nor did the Jewish state share any special intelligence with Ottawa. He said he hopes other countries will follow Canada's example.

"I think everyone in Israel appreciates its forthright stand against a regime that brutalizes its own people, that colludes in the murder of tens of thousands in Syria, that denies the Holocaust and calls for the eradication of the state of Israel while pursuing an illicit program for developing nuclear weapons.

"I think that it's particularly important that at this time Canada took a real position and said this can't go on," Netanyahu said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told CBC his country appreciates Canada's "forthright stand" against the Iranian government. (Uriel Sinai/Associated Press/Getty)

On Sunday, Harper said there was a long list of reasons for suspending diplomatic ties with Iran. He said one of the biggest reasons was increasing concern about the safety of embassy staff in Tehran, because the embassy is on a busy road and he was worried about attacks.

Harper, speaking at the conclusion of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Russia, said Canadian diplomats were recalled because of Iran's "capacity for increasingly bad behaviour."

"We know what Iran's record is, not just in terms of treatment of diplomatic personnel, but we know Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism that is pursuing a nuclear program contrary to its international obligations, that it engages in anti-Semitism and genocidal threats against the state of Israel, that is arming the Assad regime.

"So I could go through the list — none of it's very good. Do I anticipate specific actions? No, not necessarily, but as I say, we should all know by now that this is a regime that does not stop at anything. So that's just the reality of the situation," he said.

Canadians on death row

The Foreign Affairs Department has warned Canadians against travelling to Iran, singling out dual Canadian-Iranians as especially vulnerable because Tehran does not recognize their new citizenship.

Canada and Iran

Canada’s relations with Iran have been on shaky ground since the 1979 Islamic Revolution:

1980: Canadian Embassy closes for eight years after Canadians spirit U.S. diplomats out of Tehran during the post-revolution hostage crisis.

1996: Two countries cap a gradual return to normal diplomatic relations with an exchange of ambassadors.

2003: Relationship chills after Zahra Kazemi, a freelance photographer with dual Canadian-Iranian citizenship, is killed in custody in Iran, in what Canada describes as a state-sanctioned murder. Canada recalls its ambassador.

2012: After months of increasingly tough talk from Ottawa, Canada suspends all relations, citing several factors including treatment of foreign diplomats, Iran's support for Syria and its threats against Israel.

— The Canadian Press and CBC News

But the heated rhetoric has raised questions about the fate of three Canadians already in Iranian prisons, including two on death row.

Iranian-Canadian blogger Hossen Derakhsan, 35, was sentenced to 19 years in prison for his writings, which inspired other Iranian reform bloggers.

Toronto's Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, 43, who emigrated to Canada after the 1979 revolution, faces a death sentence after being charged with espionage when he returned to visit family four years ago.

Saeed Malekpour, a web programmer from Richmond Hill, Ont., is on death row after being charged with promoting pornographic websites. He says he was tortured into confessing to crimes.

They are awaiting their fate in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, where Zahra Kazemi, a freelance photographer with dual Canadian-Iranian citizenship, was tortured and killed in 2003. Canada later recalled its ambassador, calling Kazemi's killing a state-sanctioned murder.

"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," Harper said.


Was it a good move for Canada to cut ties with Iran? Take our survey.

Until Friday, the Kazemi incident marked a new low in Canadian-Iranian relations since 1979. The Canadian embassy was closed for eight years after Canadians spirited America diplomats out of Tehran in 1980 during the U.S. hostage crisis.

NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar has called the latest embassy closure bizarre and irresponsible, saying it has removed Canada as a potential player in the Middle East.

But according to Fen Hampson, head of the global security program at the Waterloo, Ont.-based Centre for International Governance Innovation, the Harper government should have pulled its diplomats out of Tehran long ago.

"Iran has consistently shunned and snubbed us and showed flagrant disregard for the basic rights of Canadians since the brutal murder of Zahra Kazemi," Hampson told The Canadian Press on Sunday.

"Those who argue we need to maintain consular services ignore the fact our diplomats have been ineffective in defending the interests and rights of Iranian Canadians when they have gone home and run afoul of the regime."

With files from The Canadian Press