updated 12/3/2007 9:37:56 PM ET 2007-12-04T02:37:56

Canada's ambassador to Iran has been ordered to leave the country by Tehran, the Canadian foreign minister said late Monday, calling the move entirely unjustifiable.

Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier suggested that the expulsion of Ambassador John Mundy, who was recently appointed and yet to have his credentials accepted, was a tit-for-tat move by the government in Tehran.

Canada and Iran have tried to come to an agreement on an exchange of ambassadors for some time, but Canada is not willing to accept the candidates Tehran has proposed thus far.

"Unfortunately, we have as yet been unable to accept the candidates Tehran has submitted," Bernier said in a statement.

"We believe that the expulsion of our ambassador is an unfortunate and unjustified consequence of this situation. As always, Canada remains prepared to receive an Iranian ambassador provided a suitable candidate is presented."

"We stand behind our ambassador, who has performed his diplomatic duties with professionalism and dedication," she said.

The diplomatic slap came one day after the Iranian charge d'affaires expressed frustration that his country's overtures to Canada were being ignored by the Harper government.

Seyed Mahdi Mohebi said in an interview with The Canadian Press that he has twice asked for a resumption of high-level contacts up to the foreign minister level.

"It is one-sided love," Mohebi said told CP in an interview conducted in Farsi. "Love should be mutual."

An official at Foreign Affairs, speaking anonymously, said that the two candidates proposed by Iran thus far had been "student radicals" in the 1970s with possible links to the U.S. Embassy hostage-taking.

Chilly relations since 1980
Iran-Canada relations have been frosty since former Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor helped spirit Americans out of the U.S. Embassy in 1980 before they could be taken hostage shortly after the Iranian revolution.

The diplomatic tussle has been going on behind the scenes for months, the official said.

The Foreign Affairs statement says Ottawa will continue to monitor the well-being of the other embassy staff in Tehran.

Bernier says the Canadian Embassy in Iran will be now headed by the charge d'affaires.

Both countries will continue to maintain embassies in the respective capitals and conduct normal operations, according to the release.

Recently, Iran's supreme court ordered a review of the death of Zahra Kazemi, the Canadian photojournalist who died in custody after being arrested outside of a Tehran prison in 2003.

Authorities said she died after falling ill. Her son believes she was tortured and raped before being killed.

Mohebi said he hoped a resolution of the case would lead to a warming of relations.

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