Visit to Iran part of Montreal”s “international diplomacy,” Coderre says

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Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre on Wednesday defended his early October voyage to Iran, saying his meeting with the mayor of Tehran and other numerous official voyages abroad serve as a form of “urban diplomacy” that help to open a channel of dialogue between nations while also bolstering Montreal’s economy.

“When we meet cities or in countries it does not mean we support everything — to the contrary,” Coderre said. “But there is the fact of having a first contact, the fact of having channels of communication that allows us to be in the forefront and send messages, and to have a strategy to grow and improve the planet by working on specific cases. … We must stop thinking that the empty chair will fix everything.”

Members of Montreal’s Iranian community expressed outrage that Coderre made a trip to meet with Tehran’s mayor Baqer Qalibaf and signed an agreement with Tehran in his role as president of Metropolis, an association of global cities.

Canada has labelled Iran’s regime as a state supporter of terrorism, severing diplomatic ties with the country and closing its embassy in Tehran in 2012. This summer, however, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister said official talks had begun about resuming ties.

While the city of Montreal failed to mention Coderre’s trip, the visit garnered headlines in Iran and was then picked up by local media. Coderre’s press attaché, Marc-André Gosselin, said Coderre was invited as president of the Métropolis association, and the information regarding his visit was posted on their website, as well as Coderre’s Facebook page. The visit was not paid for by the city of Montreal.

“As president of Metropolis, the mayor is developing a new approach of urban diplomacy that brings him to meet his counterparts across the world,” Gosselin said.

Late Monday, prominent Montreal attorney Anne-France Goldwater posted a message on her Facebook page saying Coderre should resign as mayor.

“DO YOU KNOW WHERE OUR MAYOR IS? Not only is he travelling all over the world at our cost, now we find out he was travelling IN IRAN to conclude ‘an agreement of co-operation’ with the mayor of Tehran!” she wrote.

“Do we need an ‘understanding’ of any nature whatsoever with a terrorist regime? Canada does not even have diplomatic relations with Iran, a country on our list of states that support terrorism. …

“It’s one thing to be anti-dog (there, I said it), but it’s a whole other thing to be pro-terrorist, or, worse still, he does not notice that he is legitimizing a terrorist regime by posing in person and shaking hands with this mayor?”

Her post has been shared more than 3,000 times.

Goldwater later told TVA Nouvelles she was considering running for mayor of Montreal. She has also promised to contest the city’s pit-bull ban in court.

In his response Wednesday, Coderre said with the growing power of cities, it is part of their role to bring nations closer together.

“We should salute the leadership of of Montreal, and leadership of cities,” he said. “Its what other international cities are doing, including Annie Hidalgo in Paris, Michael Muller in Berlin, Dakar’s Khalifa Sall, and (Kazumi) Matsui of Hiroshima.”

rbruemmer@postmedia.com

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