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Canada closes embassy in Iran

Canada's Conservative government said Friday it is shutting its embassy in Tehran and severing diplomatic relations with Iran, which Canada says is providing military assistance to Syria.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said that the Canadian embassy in Tehran will close immediately and Iranian diplomats in Canada have been given five days to leave.

Baird, who serves in a government that is a staunch ally of Israel, said Iran is the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today.

"The Iranian regime is providing increasing military assistance to the Assad regime; it refuses to comply with UN resolutions pertaining to its nuclear program; it routinely threatens the existence of Israel and engages in racist anti-Semitic rhetoric and incitement to genocide," Baird said in a statement.

"It is among the world's worst violators of human rights; and it shelters and materially supports terrorist groups, requiring the Government of Canada to formally list Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism under the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act."

Baird said he was worried about the safety of diplomats in Tehran following attacks on the British embassy there.

Britain downgraded ties with Iran following a major attack on its embassy in Tehran in November 2011, which it insists was sanctioned by the Islamic republic's ruling elite. After the attack, Britain pulled all of its diplomats out of Iran and expelled Iranian diplomats from U.K. soil.

Canada's relations with Iran have been strained since former Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor helped rescue six Americans from Iran during the hostage crisis in 1980.

Relations became even rockier in 2003 after Zahra Kazemi, a freelance photographer with dual Canadian-Iranian citizenship, died in custody after being arrested while taking photographs outside a Tehran prison in 2003. Canada then recalled its ambassador. Iran also ordered Canada's ambassador to leave the country after trying unsuccessfully to come to an agreement on an exchange of ambassadors for some time.

All Iranian diplomats in Canada have now been declared "personae non gratae," Baird said. He also told Canadians to avoid traveling to Iran.