The two candidates for Iranian ambassador that Canadian authorities have rejected were envoys to Germany and Russia and had no links to radical Islamist students who took U.S. diplomats hostage 27 years ago, Iran's top diplomat in Canada said yesterday.
"It is absolutely not true," that the two were student radicals, Seyed Mahdi Mohebi, the chargé d'affaires at the Iranian embassy, said in an interview.
Mr. Mohebi said that Ahmad Azizi, a former ambassador to Germany and onetime deputy foreign minister, and Alireza Nobari, who once served as Iran's ambassador to Moscow, were both turned down by Ottawa with no explanation.
Iran cited the rejection as the reason for its expulsion this week of John Mundy, recently appointed Canada's ambassador to Tehran, as relations between the two countries continued to sour.
However, research by The Globe and Mail identified an Ahmad Azizi as "director of American hostage affairs" in the office of Iran's prime minister at the height of the hostage crisis in 1980. It was not immediately possible to determine whether the same individual was later appointed ambassador to Germany.
In a news report from Tehran in January, 1981, that referred to Canada's role in spiriting six U.S. diplomats out of Iran on phony passports a year earlier, Mr. Azizi was asked how Canada could renew full diplomatic ties with Iran. He replied that "Canada should not help spies." Mr. Azizi was identified in that instance as an assistant to executive affairs minister Behzad Nabavi.
Research shows that Iran's ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1989 was named Alireza Nowbari Heyrani.
Canadian officials have suggested that both candidates were rejected because intelligence reports indicated they played roles in the hostage crisis.
Iran has cited Canada's rejection of the two ambassadors for its decision this week to expel Canada's newly appointed ambassador to Iran, John Mundy.
As the diplomatic row escalated, the Iranians launched a charm offensive, inviting several Canadian reporters for interviews at Iran's embassy in downtown Ottawa.
Speaking in the ambassador's office, Mr. Mohebi said that the Iranians remained perplexed and upset at Canada's rejection of the two candidates for ambassador who have been presented for approval since the last Iranian ambassador left the country in 2004.
"We don't know" why they were rejected, Mr. Mohebi said through a Farsi-speaking interpreter supplied by the embassy. "You have to ask the Canadian government. ... Ask them, please."
He said that Mr. Azizi's name was put forward three years ago and rejected several months later. Mr. Nobari's name was proposed eight months ago and he was rejected two months ago. The first rejection took place under the former Liberal government while the latest occurred under the Tories.
Asked whether he blamed the 2003 death in custody of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi for the deterioration of relations, Mr. Mohebi said that the case was not important enough to affect bilateral relations.
"We believe that Canada is using this case as an excuse to downgrade relations between our country and Canada," Mr. Mohebi said. "This should not be an important factor in determining our relations."
Mr. Mohebi compared her case to that of Robert Dziekanski, the Polish immigrant who died after being struck by an RCMP taser at Vancouver Airport in October.
"Is that incident affecting Canada's relations with Poland?" he asked.
Another major irritant between the countries is Canada's persistence at the United Nations General Assembly in sponsoring annual resolutions denouncing Iran's human rights record.
The Iranian chargé d'affaires said that Tehran is anxious to improve relations and to open consulates in Toronto and Vancouver, both of which have large Iranian expatriate communities. Under the current chill in relations, Iran is allowed to operate only its embassy in Ottawa.