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Talk by Former Ambassador Piques Interest of Trent Community

Terry ColferWhat do you think the future will be like for Iran? What are the political prospects for liberalization in Iran? What is your perspective on the war in Iraq? Is it safe for me as a Canadian to travel to Iran?

These questions were just a few of those asked of Terry Colfer by students and faculty during his visit to Trent University on March 8. As the former Canadian Ambassador to Kuwait and to Iran, Mr. Colfer was in a good position to answer them. In fact, talking about the political and social dynamics of the region and attempting to shed some light on a society in which he lived in many years, was the main reason for Mr. Colfer's visit to Trent.

"I hope to show a slightly different perspective (of Iran) than that often portrayed in the western mainstream media," said Mr. Colfer in an interview just prior to addressing a large group of students and faculty waiting in the Senior Common Room at Lady Eaton College.

Mr. Colfer was invited to speak at Trent by History Professor Marion Boulby, whom he met when the two were part of a Canada Corps Election Observation Team in Palestine in January. Mr. Colfer was happy to accept the invitation to Palestine as a means of gaining his "international fix", a fix he says he enjoys since retiring from the Foreign Service in September 2003.

Attracted by his first taste of living abroad when he was a soldier in the Gaza Strip in the mid 1960's, Mr. Colfer inquired about work in the Foreign Service upon his return to Canada. He was accepted in 1969 and went on to enjoy a gratifying and challenging career posted, primarily, as a trade commissioner in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Australia and the United States. Mr. Colfer spent his final career days overseas holding the position of Canadian Ambassador in Kuwait and Qatar; followed by his appointment as Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

"It is one of the most demanding but rewarding jobs in the government", Mr. Colfer remarked, referring to the role of an Ambassador. "In fact, it is one of the best jobs anywhere".

According to Mr. Colfer, part of the challenge of the job comes with living it 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"There is little sanctuary", Mr. Colfer recalls of his time spent in various difficult postings around the world, especially in Iran and Kuwait. "You are continually immersed in the culture and the country".

Being absorbed in the various cultures in the Middle East was a challenge Mr. Colfer willingly accepted and the experiences he gained there formed the content of presentations delivered to numerous audiences, including his talk at Trent.

Mr. Colfer began his talk by debunking some of the western perceptions that surround this Middle Eastern country. He drew the audiences' attention to the fact that Iran is one of the most liberal of all countries in the Middle East in terms of freedom of speech, and is also one of the most sympathetic to the United States from the viewpoint of the general population. At the same time, however, Mr. Colfer maintained his objectivity throughout his presentation. He highlighted what he had seen, learned, and experienced during his time in a country that he describes as geographically beautiful and "politically alive"; especially with regards to the current young generation which makes up about 70 per cent of the 70 million people living there.

"Iran may have a bomb but right now it's not 'that' bomb", Mr. Colfer said during his talk. "This bomb is out in the open, it's in the coffee shops and learning institutions and it is ticking. This 'bomb' is represented by the demographic pressure of the young people in Iran demanding change".

One of the main things he has learned in his time spent in the Middle East is that there are many misconceptions on the part of the west that need clarification. According to Mr. Colfer, for too many years the petroleum-centred Middle East has been treated as "a big gas station" while the living conditions of the people in the region have been ignored.

It is through discussions like this one at Trent and by providing a venue to talk openly about the many complexities that Mr. Colfer is hoping to help present a balanced view on this geopolitically volatile and important part of the world.

Posted March 29, 2006





























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