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Retired diplomat visits Saskatoon to discuss relations with the Middle East

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Horak says  the Persian Gulf is not a place that Canada can ignore without repercussions. 

“It has this tendency, as much as the rest of the Middle East, to come up and bite you. And such a place we need to be engaged with… We need to understand what’s going on, and frankly, we’re playing short-handed there now with no embassy in Iran and no ambassador in Saudi Arabia,” Horak said. 

Recently, Iran has been of particular global interest, with the United States assassination of Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani in January. Then the subsequent plane crash that killed 176 people is more challenging with no embassy in Iran, according to Horak. 

He is coming to Saskatoon as a guest speaker for an event hosted by the Canadian International Council on Feb. 27. His talk, titled “Iran and the Middle East — a Canadian Perspective,” will dive into his rich, 20-year experience in foreign service and the difficulties he has faced when values clash with global politics. 

At times, diplomacy comes at odds with Canada’s commitment to defend human rights on the world stage, leading to complicated situations. However, Horak feels that Canadian values should not “override everything else we do” regarding our foreign policy. 

“We can have an impact on human rights … and we can have a much greater impact [by] engaging them and talking with them and doing things on the ground more than we [could] ever do with a tweet,” Horak said. 

One consequence of the severed relations was that Saudi Arabia withdrew its students from Canadian post-secondary institutions in 2018. When countries have turbulent relationships with one another, universities and its students are sometimes the ones impacted by it. 

“When you have international students, whether they come from Saudi Arabia or China or whatever, they’re taking back a little bit of Canada with them so they are inevitably politicized one way or another,” Horak said. 

Horak, too, has been impacted by the volatile nature of diplomacy. Since 2018, he has retired from politics but continues to write about the Middle East with articles in The Globe and Mail and is currently working on a book.

Nykole King | Editor-in-Chief

Photo: Supplied by Dennis Horak | Sally Horak

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