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Canada shuts down embassy, further expands sanctions on Syria

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and his counterpart from the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, hold a news conference in Ottawa on March 5, 2012.

BLAIR GABLE/Blair Gable/Reuters

Canada has closed its embassy in Syria, pulling its last diplomats from the country as security worsens.

Ottawa had repeatedly warned the embassy in Damascus was on a day-to-day lifeline and withdrew staff who handled visas and passports for Canadian citizens in January. The last of the diplomats at the embassy have already left.

"The embassy's closed, effective now," Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said.

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Earlier in the day, Canada expanded economic sanctions against Syria, hitting the country's central bank and cabinet ministers.

The move is intended to widen the net of sanctions so that sanctions imposed by others, like those announced by the 27-nation European Union last week, cannot be evaded by moving money to Canada.

The new sanctions freeze the assets of Syria's central bank and bar Canadians from doing business with them. The same freeze and ban were applied to seven new individuals, all ministers in the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including his oil minister, transport minister and industry minister.

Canada first imposed sanctions last May to respond to Mr. al-Assad's brutal crackdown on opposition protests, and has already widened them four times.

Mr. Baird announced the closure of the embassy in Syria at a joint news conference with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates.

The two ministers declared the once-damaged relationship between Canada and the UAE patched up, although they danced around the issue that cause the rift – Ottawa's refusal to offer expanded landing rights for the UAE's expanding airlines.

That dispute led the UAE in 2010 to kick the Canadian Forces out of the desert base near Dubai they had used to as a staging pad for operations in Afghanistan. And it was Mr. Baird, then the transport minister, who, out of a desire to protect Air Canada, led the argument against giving the UAE more landing rights.

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And while the UAE's Emirates and Etihad airlines still wants to more than triple their flights into Canada, the country's Foreign Minister treated the issue gently.

"Definitely I think having more trade between the UAE and Canada and using the UAE as a hub, I think, is [beneficial]to both countries," Sheikh Abdullah said.

Mr. Baird said the political partnership between the two countries has been important, as the UAE is heavily involved in regional politics on issues around Libya, Syria, and Iran. He insisted the relationship is now on "the right trajectory."

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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