Ken Taylor called Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, a "remarkable man" who is both familiar with the West and has the trust of his country's top Islamic clerics.
"At this moment — I think without sounding too naive or forgetting about the Iranian performance up to now — we could be on the brink of a breakthrough," the former diplomat told the Global Business Forum in Banff, Alta., Friday.
"This is somebody who appears to have the mandate of the supreme leader. He knows the West, just as well as the rest of us."
Scotland-educated Rouhani has sent good wishes to Israel, whereas his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, "just threatened to send a bomb," Taylor said.
It's possible Rouhani and U.S. President Barack Obama could run into each other in the United Nations in New York next week, Taylor said, adding improving relations with Iran would be a boon to Obama's last two years in office.
Taylor said there's a "lack of mutual trust" when it comes to talks between Iran and Western nations, but he says he hopes new negotiations won't be held back by past failures.
During his posting in Iran, Taylor sheltered helped six Americans flee the country after militants stormed the U.S. embassy and took most other staffers hostage. The event was portrayed in Ben Affleck's 2012 film "Argo". The movie has been criticized for underplaying Canada's role.
"I had a superb Canadian actor play me, but he wasn't given much of a role," Taylor said, referring to London, Ont.,-born Victor Garber.
When Affleck got wind of the criticism, he invited Taylor and his wife, Pat, to a screening of the film in Los Angeles.
"And it is a marvellous work of entertainment. Ben Affleck is an outstanding director," said Taylor.
It was so "gripping," in fact, that Taylor said his wife nudged him and told him "we did get out OK."