Canada closed its Tehran embassy on Friday and ordered Iranian diplomats beexpelled, in a damning severance of ties in which it accused the IslamicRepublic of being the biggest threat to world peace.
Canada did not cite a specific incident that caused the breakdown, butissued a strongly worded attack on Tehran's support for Syrian President Basharal-Assad's pariah regime and Iran's "incitement to genocide" againstIsrael.
In announcing the action, Ottawa cited concerns for the safety of its staffat the diplomatic mission in Tehran and also attacked the failure of Iran'srulers to account for the nation's disputed nuclear program.
"Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat toglobal peace and security in the world today," Foreign Affairs MinisterJohn Baird said in a statement.
"Diplomatic relations between Canada and Iran have been suspended. AllCanadian diplomatic staff have left Iran, and Iranian diplomats in Ottawa havebeen instructed to leave within five days," he added.
Baird also warned Canadians, including dual nationals, that Ottawa will notbe able to provide assistance to them if they travel to Iran, and advised anyCanadians in Iran to contact the Canadian mission in Turkey if needed.
Canada's action did not prompt an immediate reaction from Tehran, but Iranhad threatened "reciprocal action" in May, when Canada closed thevisa section in its Iranian embassy, one used by thousands of Iranians withties to Canada.
Ottawa's move has gotten support from some of its allies in the West, whoallege that the nuclear program aims to give Tehran a nuclear bomb, and haveaccused the "Iranian regime" of promoting international terrorism.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated Canada for cuttingdiplomatic relations, calling the decision "courageous" and "anexample to the international community."
The US State Department said it "shared Canada's concerns"regarding Iran's support for the Syrian regime, its human rights record and itsnuclear program.
"We want all countries to join us in isolating Iran as they seeappropriate," added State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell,adding "there are many different ways they can do that."
An estimated 120,000 people of Iranian origin or descent live in Canada,according to official 2006 census data, and thousands of their relatives inIran visit them every year.
Despite worsening relations, however, Ottawa's decision to cut all ties wassurprising, Houchang Hassan-Yari, a Royal Military College of Canada professor,said, noting that as recently as the 1990s, Iran was Canada's main commercialpartner in the Middle East.
Friday's move "is a sign of the very pronounced rapprochement betweenCanada and Israel," and of an ever-stronger shift away from Iran, headded.
In July, Ottawa warned Iran not to recruit agents in Canada after an Iranianenvoy was quoted urging Iranian-Canadians to "occupy high-level keypositions" and to "resist being melted into the dominant Canadianculture."
Ties have also been strained by Tehran's treatment of Iranian-born Canadianswho traveled to visit their homeland. Iran does not recognize dual nationalityand authorities have denied Canadian detainees consular protection.
An Iranian opposition group, the National Council of the Iranian Resistance,based in Paris, welcomed Ottawa's decision to sever ties with what the group'spresident-elect called "the religious fascism ruling Iran."
Tehran had exploited its diplomatic relations around the world "tojustify suppression, crime, acquiring advanced technology, in particularnuclear technology, and (to) export terrorism," said Maryam Rajavi.
Iran, which has been ruled by an Islamic theocracy since the 1979 uprisingagainst the former Persian monarchy, is locked in a diplomatic stand-off withthe West over its nuclear activities.
Tehran insists it has a right to enrich nuclear fuel to power civiliannuclear energy and research, but Washington, Israel and their allies claim itis seeking nuclear weapons capability.
In recent years, the stand-off has led Canada and the international communityto implement a series of sanctions against Iran.
Israel, which has an undeclared nuclear weapons program of its own, has madeit clear that it would launch military strikes sooner than see its main enemyin the Middle East attain such a goal.
Iran's leaders in return regularly issue threats to destroy Israel or todisrupt oil shipping in the Gulf. Tehran is also the main foreign backer ofAssad's regime in Damascus.