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Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Sept. 11, 2011.Richard Drew/The Associated Press

The decision to sever diplomatic relations with Iran marks a retreat from the enlightened influence Canada can have in the world.

Everything that Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has said about Iran is true. The country has, under its ruling mullahcracy, descended into something resembling a rogue state. But the government's decision is still baffling.

Mr. Baird did not reveal a specific incident, or threat, to explain the timing of the move, though he hinted that embassy officers could be in danger. If there were a specific, verified threat, then a temporary closure of the embassy may be justified. But Canadian diplomats serve in dangerous posts in many places in the world, and Canada has gone much further than a temporary closing. It has expelled Iranian diplomats and ended diplomatic ties.

Instead of sharing any threats, Mr. Baird provided a summary of Iran's various international and domestic crimes and misdemeanours: its support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its nuclear program, its support for organizations Ottawa considers terrorist groups, its human-rights record and of course, its threats against Israel. This latter concern elicited speculation that Canada acted because an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear capability is imminent, and this country is seen as a supporter of Israel.

Mr. Baird even mentioned the 1979 hostage-taking at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, which one might have thought was a very good argument against closing the embassy. Imagine if Ken Taylor and Canadian diplomats had been withdrawn during that tumultuous period, and were not there to help shield some American diplomats from the fanatics.

The presence of an embassy and the retention of diplomatic relations is not evidence of support for or approval of a regime, it is an acknowledgement that it is better to talk, even to an enemy, than not.

Cardinal Richelieu devoted a chapter of his Testament politique to the imperative of continuous negotiation, stating, "I may venture to say boldly that to negotiate without ceasing, openly or secretly, in all places, and though no present benefits accrue, nor any prospects of future advantage present itself, is what is absolutely necessary for the good and welfare of States."

It is precisely because it is a threat to its own people and those in other countries that Canada should continue to talk with Iran and not retreat from its international responsibilities.