Iran accused Canada on Saturday of "hostile behavior" under Israeli and British influence after Ottawa cut diplomatic relations, and it raised the prospect of swift retaliation.

Canada said on Friday that it was closing its embassy in Tehran and gave Iranian diplomats five days to leave the country, branding the Islamic Republic as the "most significant threat to global peace and security."

Ottawa cited Iran's disputed nuclear work, which Western states see as a disguised effort to develop atomic bombs, its hostility toward Israel and alleged military aid to Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is battling a popular uprising.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said the move was a "continuation of anti-Iranian policies" by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government, which has long had poor relations with Tehran.

"The current government of Canada under the leadership of Mr. Stephen Harper is known for extreme policies in the domain of foreign policy," Mehr news agency quoted Mehmanparast as saying.

"The hostile behavior of the current racist government in Canada in reality follows the policies dictated by the Zionists (Israel) and the British."

Iran has been a regional adversary of Israel since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, while Britain expelled Iranian diplomats late last year after radical Iranian protesters sacked its embassy in Tehran.

Alaeddin Boroujerdi, who heads Iran's influential parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, said there could be an "immediate and decisive" response to Canada's action, Fars news agency reported.

"It is essential that the foreign ministry respond to this action by Canada on the basis of national interests."

Israel, Jewish groups praise Canada's decision


Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Friday welcomed Canada's decision to expel the Iranian ambassador from Ottawa and to close the Canadian embassy in Tehran.



"I congratulate Canada's PM [Stephen] Harper for showing leadership and making a bold move that sends a clear message to Iran and the world," Netanyahu stated.



"The determination shown by Canada is of great importance in order for the Iranians to understand that they cannot go on with their race toward nuclear arms. This practical step must set an example of international morality and responsibility to the international community," he said.



President Shimon Peres on Saturday also praised Canada for its "principled" decision. In a special message to the Canadian people, Peres said, "I hope that other nations will see the example Canada has set and use Canada as a moral role model."

Peres thanked Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and said that Canada once again had proven that it is a nation in which principles supersede comfort.



The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Friday praised Canada's decision, calling it "an important moral declaration and a rejection of the extremist threats of the Iranian regime against the US, Israel and the West."



Expressing hope that other states would follow the Canadian decision with initiatives of their own, the Conference of Presidents thanked Canada's prime and foreign ministers.



Also responding to Ottawa's move was Canadian MP Irwin Cotler, who said it was "as important for the reasons underlying the decision, as the decision itself."



Cotler went on to call for additional steps to be taken against Tehran, including placing its Revolutionary Guards on the Canadian list of terrorist entities, legally holding the Iranian leadership to account for "incitement to genocide," and increasing sanctions against Iran's nuclear program and human rights violations.

Canadian diplomats already left Tehran

Canada's 10 diplomats in Iran have already left Tehran, the Canadian foreign ministry said on Friday.

Western states led by the United States believe Iran is covertly trying to develop nuclear weapons capability, though Iran states its uranium enrichment work is wholly peaceful, aimed at generating electricity and medical isotopes.

Mehmanparast said the Canadian move was an attempt to nullify Iran's diplomatic success in hosting a summit of Non-Aligned Movement developing countries last month, which he said Canada had tried to scuttle.

He said Canada's anti-Iranian policies included a ban on money transfers for Iranian students studying in Canada and the blocking of the bank accounts of ordinary Iranians as a result of Western sanctions imposed on Iran's banking sector.

There is a large Iranian diaspora in Canada, with more than 120,000 people reporting Iranian ethnic origins.

Ottawa's bilateral relations with Tehran deteriorated markedly in 2003, when Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died in Tehran's Evin prison while in custody.

The closure of Ottawa's Tehran mission is the most significant row between Iran and another country since the ransacking of the UK embassy, which British officials said could not have happened without some level of government consent.

The United States has not had a functioning embassy in Tehran since the 1979-81 hostage crisis, when 52 Americans were held for 444 days.

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