Cees Kole says his visit to the ruins of Persepolis embodied Iranian hospitality.
The Dutch ambassador and his wife Saskia Kole-Jordans made the trip to the ancient capital of the first Persian empire, located in Iran’s south, in 2010 while he was posted as the Dutch ambassador to Iran.
A guard at the site noticed that Mr. Kole was busy looking at some of the images on the structure’s walls. One of his hobbies is archeology.
“I was studying it and then the guard said, ‘I see that you are looking at this, can I give you an explanation?’”
The guard ended up giving Mr. Kole a guided tour for more than an hour.
“The Iranian people, they are very friendly and like to show you many things,” Mr. Kole said on Sept. 26, while sitting in his downtown Ottawa office.
The new Dutch envoy landed in Ottawa on Aug. 8 and presented his credentials at the end of that month. He served as the Netherlands’ top man in Iran from 2010 to June.
“I volunteered to go there,” the Dutch envoy said, explaining that it was his curiosity of the country’s ancient history, its culture and the current geopolitical situation that drew him to the country.
“It was from a professional point of view very satisfying,” Mr. Kole said.
“You can read a lot [about a country]…but it doesn’t give you the feeling of what it is,” Mr. Kole said.
“I was a regular visitor like all of the Western ambassadors to the foreign ministry,” he said.
“Very often you would leave the building after having agreed to disagree.”
Mr. Kole’s experiences stretch far beyond his posting in Iran. After finishing his master’s degree in law in 1980, Mr. Kole decided he wanted to go abroad and work for an international organization.
He packed his bags and went to Lesotho for a few years to work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees where he was running refugee projects and worked on developing legislation on the determination of refugee status.
He also met some Canadians who were volunteering for the UN and he hopes he’ll be able to find them while he’s here in Canada.
Mr. Kole has served as deputy director of the protocol department at his foreign ministry, deputy head of mission in Paris, and policy officer and spokesperson at the permanent representation to the European Union in Brussels, among other positions.
He learned and always repeated to others “don’t be afraid of journalists,” he said, especially during his time as a spokesperson. Both diplomacy and journalism involve being capable of listening and knowing the value of words, he said.
Mr. Kole said journalism, which he also studied, played a key role in democracy. In turn, it was important for government officials to share with the media what was going on and why the government was making certain decisions.
Connecting with Canadians
Mr. Kole has been in Canada for less than two months, but he’s already busy meeting people and starting his journey across the vast country.
He traveled to Calgary soon after arriving in Canada, where he met with industry folks. He also visited Toronto with his wife on a private trip to see the sights and sounds of the city.
One of his main focuses will be on expanding trade and economic ties between Canada and the Netherlands, whether it is in energy or the environment.
He said a trade deal between Canada and the European Union would be a “game changer” in commercial ties, and that he hopes a deal will be wrapped up soon.
Mr. Kole said the two countries would continue to work together in the political sphere such as with the promotion of human rights. For example, foreign ministers from both countries joined hands for a panel discussion focused on the issue of forced child marriages in New York on Sept. 25.
A Dutch expert and trade representative also recently made a trip to Calgary to work with Canadians to see if the “Dutch knowledge and experience on risk reduction and flood response can be of any use,” Mr. Kole said.
Among his goals is his desire to boost the number of student exchanges between Canadian and Dutch universities. “When I look at all the things I would like to do, it’s a very long list…we will work on it,” he said.
He has met with officials from the foreign ministry including deputy foreign minister Morris Rosenberg on Sept. 26.
“Sometimes during these courtesy calls I run the risk that I overstay the hospitality because you feel so at home,” Mr. Kole said with a laugh.
Before leaving the foreign ministry earlier that day, he signed a book of condolences for Annemarie Desloges, the Canadian diplomat killed in an attack at a shopping mall in Kenya.
“At the end of our meeting I mentioned to Mr. Rosenberg that yes indeed the world is sometimes a dangerous place and this could have happened to any of us.”
Mr. Kole has also connected with people from the Privy Council Office, non-governmental organizations and businesses such as those involved in the oil and gas sector.
He already has some plans to visit Montreal and Halifax by the end of November, and Saskatchewan and Toronto sometime early next year. And in the next few weeks, Mr. Kole and his wife plan to go on a trip towards Mont-Tremblant so that they can see the colourful fall foliage.