A little over three years ago, the Harper government closed the Canadian embassy in Tehran -- a move which former Canadian ambassador to Iran, James George, described as "stupid." Weighing the pros and cons of this decision in retrospect, Ambassador George's assertion seems largely accurate: Canada has simply not gained much as a result of this course of action. The new, less hard-line liberal government of Prime Minister Trudeau has signaled that it is willing to re-opening the embassy again, but has yet to announce any such plans.
Although we were never really an influential actor inside Iran, by shutting our embassy's doors we have effectively lost the little leverage and means of communication we had with a pivotal player in the Middle East. A functioning embassy -- a nation's eyes and ears -- would allow Canada to directly and independently assess the complicated political scene in Iran better, becoming less reliant on our allies when it comes to our understanding and engagement with the Middle East. In fact, Canadian and Iranian interests in the region overlap on numerous fronts (e.g. the fight against ISIS).
Such ground presence would further permit Ottawa to possibly negotiate the release of Canadian prisoners inside Iran (e.g. Saeed Malekpour). The United States actually just achieved something of the like under the (unofficial) umbrella of the nuclear negotiations. Additionally, diplomatic relations with Iran will allow the Canadian government to play a more constructive role when it comes to pressuring for human rights reforms. Iran has a terrible human rights track record, similar to many other countries in the Middle East. The establishment of an embassy would permit Canada to potentially hit two birds with one stone: satisfying national interests in the region while bolstering its international image as a champion of civil liberties.
Politics aside, Canada may stand to benefit economically from restarting relations as well. From energy to mining to agriculture, a boost in Canadian-Iranian trade would be profitable for both countries. Iran recently announced ambitious plans to attract foreign capital over the coming years in both energy and mining, two areas which Canadian companies are global leaders in. The reserves of the latter are said to be almost as extensive as its hydrocarbon ones, an estimated $700 billion in value. Unsurprisingly, however, their developments (similar to the Iranian oil fields) have been largely inefficient and inadequate due to dated technology and lack of expertise -- enter Canada.
Over the past few months numerous European, Chinese, and Russian delegations have already visited Iran to boost trade ties and capitalise on its market of 75 million (see here and here). Companies like the likes of Airbus, Total, and British Petroleum are either on the verge of or have already made deals with Tehran. Even American companies like Apple, General Electric, Hewlett Packard, and Boeing may enter in the near future. For instance, Apple and Hewlett Packard have already been in touch with Iranian distributors, hoping to get a head start if unilateral American sanctions are lifted. Perhaps it would be wise for Canada to re-consider standing on the sidelines in the upcoming year and re-engage with Iran like much else of the world.
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