First Canadian Mission in Iran After Embassy Closure

Canadian sources say the visit is seen as a tangible sign that Ottawa is committed to reengaging with Tehran
Chrystia FreelandChrystia Freeland

A Canadian delegation arrived in Tehran on Tuesday for talks to facilitate the restoration of diplomatic ties, the first such visit since the previous Canadian government closed its embassy in Tehran nearly five years ago.

In September 2012, the administration of former Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, severed diplomatic contacts with the Islamic Republic, citing, among other pretexts, “continued threats from Iran to Israel”.

The Italian Embassy has been handling Canada’s interests in Iran since then.

The visit by Global Affairs officials comes just days ahead of Iran’s May 19 presidential election. Iranian officials have also been negotiating with Canadians to help Iranian expatriates residing in Canada cast their ballots at the polling stations there.

That request is also likely to come up in Tehran in the coming days. A petition signed last year by more than 5,600 expatriates called for the resumption of Tehran-Ottawa ties.

A Canadian government source confirmed to CBC News the officials are in Tehran advocating for Canadians entangled in Iran's legal system. The source familiar with the matter would not discuss the details of the consular cases involved, but said they were also raised in a phone call between the two countries' foreign ministers on Tuesday.

According to the source, the visit is also inevitably seen as a tangible sign that Canada is "committed to reengaging" with Tehran, though no immediate breakthrough is expected in reopening the embassies. Restoring relations with Iran was a promise made by liberal Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the 2015 election.

He has signaled willingness on several occasions ever since to see Canada's Embassy reopen in Tehran. Shortly after Trudeau took office, Canada lifted a number of sanctions on Iran, bringing Ottawa into line with several world powers that had agreed to do so under a deal with Iran to curb its nuclear program. The change, along with downgrading a warning against all travel to Iran, was partly aimed at encouraging Canadian business ties in Iran's burgeoning market.

Continuing Thaw

The call between Canadian Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in addition to the arrival of the officials, is a further indication of the continuing thaw in relations between the two countries.

Canadian consular cases were again the focus of Tuesday's call, according to the Canadian government source. But the call also included a discussion on Iran's role in Syria in support of Bashar al-Assad. Freeland's spokesman, Alex Lawrence, has said engagement with Iran remains a priority. Iranian authorities have complained that Canada has been slow to implement reengagement and that Tehran is ready to restore relations, but Ottawa is dragging its feet. The Iranian Foreign Ministry says the ball is in Ottawa's court.

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