Tehran targets Canadian 'spies'
- Iranian lawmakers call for probe to close embassy, accuse envoys of
plotting with U.S.
Tehran targets Canadian 'spies'
Nov. 30, 2006
In a sign of chilling relations between Iran and Canada, Iranian
lawmakers have labelled Canada's embassy in Tehran a "den of spies"
and called for a probe that could shut it down.
"The Canadian embassy represents the `den of spies' and this is
unacceptable for Iranians," said hard-liner Hamidreza Hajbabai, one of
a group of parliamentarians accusing Ottawa of plotting with the
United States, a long-term enemy of Iran.
Another lawmaker, Javad Arian-Manesh, said the Majiles (parliament)
would investigate the Canadian embassy for espionage, "and if it is
proven, (we are) determined to shut down the mission."
The Iranian foreign ministry, which is responsible for embassy
relations, must take action if the suspicions are proven, Arian-Manesh
added in a report in the Farsi-language newspaper Etemad, saying
Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie who controls the
secret service will meet with MPs to discuss the charges.
The heated language used by the lawmakers is reminiscent of the
rhetoric of militants during the 1979 hostage crisis, when
revolutionary students took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran and
relations with Washington reached a dangerous low.
Former Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor, who helped rescue six Americans
from Iran during the crisis, called the charges "ludicrous," and
dismissed them as "a lot of rhetoric."
"They are equating spying with getting to know your sources, which is
good diplomacy," Taylor said from his home in New York, adding, "every
embassy has people who can act as liaison officials with secret
services. But Canada has no reason to run its own spy service in Iran,
when other Western countries can do the job much better."
Observers say the Iranian parliament's action is part of a tit-for-tat
that followed the murder of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi
after she was jailed in Tehran in 2003 for taking pictures during a
student protest. Since then, Ottawa has led a charge at the United
Nations to censure Iran for its poor human rights record.
But, says Houchang Hassan-Yari, head of politics and economics at the
Royal Military College of Canada, "parliament has limited power in
Iran, and if the leadership doesn't take this on, it will not turn
into a crisis."
Ottawa's Department of Foreign Affairs says there is "absolutely no
basis" for the charges made by the Iranian parliament.
The Iranian embassy did not respond to calls yesterday.
Those who watch the two countries' foreign policies closely say it's
one more downward step in the unhappy progress of Canadian-Iranian
"It's not a crisis, but more of a symptom of things going downhill,"
said a Western diplomat who also worked in Iran. "Canada's stand on
human rights and Iran's treatment of its citizens, like Zahra Kazemi,
has angered people in authority. They want to retaliate."
Ottawa's diplomatic list says there is no ambassador currently in
Tehran, and the mission is headed by a junior official, a chargé
Relations with Iran have cooled since they began in 1955, and a
Canadian embassy was opened in Tehran six years later. But in the
aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the hostage rescue,
normal relations were broken off. The embassy temporarily closed in
1980 and only reopened in 1988.
Now repercussions continue from the murder of Kazemi, and the more
recent arrest of Canadian Iranian academic Ramin Jahanbegloo.
Following a Canadian-led UN vote to reprimand Iran for its human
rights violations, Tehran tabled a failed resolution condemning
Canada's treatment of immigrants and indigenous people. Its officials
also allege Ottawa is in league with Britain and the U.S., which
is locked in a struggle over Iran's ambitions to develop a nuclear bomb.
"Canada is no big deal in global politics," sneered Foreign Minister
Manouchehr Mottaki in a recent Tehran news conference. "We all know
Canada is acting on behalf of other countries and only after full
co-ordination with London."
The former Liberal government slapped restrictions on Canada's
diplomatic relations with Iran, limiting contacts and halting visits
or exchanges by Iranian officials to Canada. Little dialogue has taken
place since then.
Meanwhile, says Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born analyst based in
Israel who is writing a book on hard-line President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, "it is extremely unlikely that the Canadian embassy is
going to be attacked, or even investigated."
If the Iranian government were "really angry," he said, its secret
service VAVAK would already have looked for incriminating evidence to
use against Canada.
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