Ken Taylor, Canada’s celebrated former ambassador to Iran, says that Canada needs to thaw its frosty relationship with Iran in the wake of the new nuclear deal with the international community or risk being out of step with global affairs.
Taylor became a household name in American in 1979 when, as Canada’s ambassador to Iran, he helped six American diplomats escape from Tehran during the Iranian revolution in a plan labelled the ‘Canadian Caper.’
Taylor said that while it is too early to see evidence of real change in Iran, Canada seems to be the odd man out as most of the world cautiously celebrates an historic agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries, the U.S., Russia, China, France, U.K. and Germany. The agreement announced earlier this week ensures a lifting of economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for limiting its nuclear arms capabilities.
Canada’s reaction to the agreement has been just short of hostile. Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson said Canada will judge Iran “by its actions, not its words,” and emphasized that Iran did not have a track record of being trustworthy. Ottawa closed its embassy and severed diplomatic ties with Iran in September 2012 for various reasons including its nuclear weapons development.
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“(Ottawa’s) policy is not a flexible one and not a dynamic one,” said Taylor on a phone interview from his home in New York.
“I’m very much in favor of what President Obama calls engagement. Diplomacy for me is, one way or another, a method to influence an adversary. And to do that you need an exchange, you need to even though you’re not partial to that regime,” he said.
“That doesn’t seem to be the case in Ottawa at the moment. Diplomacy, in respect to at least coming to a neutral relationship with Iran, doesn’t seem to be in the vocabulary.”
Taylor said that Canada risks having an unnecessarily antagonistic relationship with Iran should the country eventually reform and join the international community. He said Iran, with 80 million people and large natural resources, represents a large opportunity for future trade. This is an opportunity, Taylor says, that the European countries are discreetly testing despite current sanctions. Canada should be more flexible toward Iran especially given its closest ally, the U.S., is willing to let Iran prove it can comply with the new nuclear deal, he said.
Iran and the P5+1 countries have until June 30 to finalize the pact.
Despite retiring from the diplomatic service in 1984, Taylor says he keeps in touch with friends in Iran as much as he can and enjoys Iranian literature.
Taylor was awarded the Order of Canada and the United States Congressional Gold Medal in 1980 for his role in the escape. The clandestine operation with the CIA was the basis for the movie, Argo in 2012.
With files from Kam Razavi