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His Northern Exposure

Canada’s Envoy Seizes the Day

Thirty years ago today, Canadian diplomats working in Iran safely smuggled six Americans out of Iran in an elaborate plot that more closely resembles a movie than the regular goings-on of international diplomacy.

The saga even has a great name: “The Canadian caper.—

When Iranians seized the American Embassy in Tehran in November 1979, six Americans somehow managed to flee successfully. The escapees sought help at the nearby Canadian embassy, and Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor — who already had negotiated the safe departure of 850 of his own employees — quickly (and quietly) responded. Somehow, Taylor managed to hide the Americans while secretly working with the CIA to get them home.

The six eventually were given Canadian passports, allowing them to board a flight on Jan. 27, 1980, out of Iran. Taylor and his team then quickly fled the country.

American gratitude to Canada ran so deep that, as a thank you, Canada received a coveted spot on Pennsylvania Avenue to build a new embassy, which opened in 1989. It’s a special honor — no other foreign embassy is located on the avenue known as “America’s Main Street.—

And that’s where Gary Doer, Canada’s current ambassador to the United States, will mark the anniversary of the “Canadian caper.—

“We didn’t offer as much money as the Saudis did for the land,— Doer joked, adding that the embassy offers “proof that our friendship was not just talk, but action.—

“We’re a long-distance runner with the United States in terms of friendship,— he later added. “We’re not an episodic sprinter.—

The athletic metaphor is fitting, considering Canada hosts the 2010 Winter Olympics starting Feb. 12. Indeed, 2010 is shaping up to be an exciting year for Canada, as the country also will be the setting for the upcoming G-8 and G-20 summits.

All that action creates outreach opportunities for Doer, who started his gig in October. The Olympics in particular will be an exciting time, and Doer, who considers himself a huge sports fan, has plenty planned.

The embassy installed a digital clock on its facade counting down to the opening ceremonies, and Doer plans to host a party kicking off the celebrations. There will be a projection screen to show the festivities, along with a Nintendo Wii winter-sports game challenge, snowboard and ski jumping demos and the chance to win a limited-edition OMEGA Olympic watch.

“We’ll have to figure out a way to make some ice, although the last couple weeks it wouldn’t have been that difficult,— Doer joked. “If you can’t be in Vancouver for the opening ceremonies, we think Washington will be a pretty great place to be.—

For a Canadian living in the United States, things could get competitive. Doer predicted that the two countries will be neck and neck in the medal race — especially in hockey, Canada’s beloved sport.

Canadians are thirsty for a win, particularly because the U.S. junior hockey team recently beat Canada. “We’d like to have another run at the Americans,— Doer said.

“I’m going to predict the women’s hockey final will be Canada and the United States, as long as the Swedish goalie doesn’t get too hot,— he said, adding that the men’s finals are less certain. “You’ve got a couple of Washington Capitals that are playing for a different team,— he joked.

(Looking at you, Russia’s Alex Ovechkin.)

And Doer’s job isn’t just about hosting parties. Most of the time, he meets with officials on issues affecting the neighboring countries: trade, job creation, climate change, border security, fighting terrorism. On one Monday morning earlier this month, for example, Doer sat with American Cabinet officials to discuss issues related to Haiti.

“That was, of course, almost 30 hours before the earthquake,— Doer said. “So instantly, all of us have, everybody in this embassy and everybody in the State Department … have been working together.—

Doer isn’t new to working with Americans. He maintained a close working relationship with U.S. officials for 10 years as premier of the province of Manitoba, and he hopes to use that experience on Capitol Hill by meeting with Members of Congress.

His ultimate goal: show Members how trade with Canada can affect their own districts, he said.

“What I want to do is make sure that what we are saying here, in diplomacy, is connected to grass-roots economic reality back home,— he said. “I think we are going to try to connect the jobs and investments in Canada— to specific districts.

Ultimately, Doer hopes he can convene a meeting with President Barack Obama — but not at the embassy or the White House. Rather, he’d like to chat up the president at the Verizon Center during the Stanley Cup finals.

That’s because Doer predicts Obama’s hometown Chicago Blackhawks will play the Caps for the championship.

“The president will have an opportunity to cheer for his hometown,— Doer said. “In a diplomatic way, to not offend all his employees who work here in Washington.—

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