23 Aug 2015

British embassy in Iran reopens

The British embassy in Iran has reopened four years after it was stormed by protesters in 2011. It comes as Briton held hostage in Yemen is freed by UAE forces.

Britain’s embassy in Iran has reopened four years after it was stormed by violent protesters.

Philip Hammond is in Tehran for a ceremony to mark the event in the first visit to the country by a British foreign secretary since 2003.

It comes as it emerged a British national held hostage in Yemen has been released by United Arab Emirates forces.

The Briton, whose identity has not been revealed, was released in a “military intelligence” operation, Mr Hammond said.

The Iranian embassy will initially be headed up by a “charge d’affaires”, a lower ranking diplomat than an ambassador. However Mr Hammond has said he expects an agreement on upgrading to full ambassador status is expected to be reached in the coming months.

Iran’s embassy in London is also reopening.

Plans to reopen the embassy were announced by the Government last year as relations between London and Tehran improved under Mr Rouhani and Iran’s strategic position came under the international spotlight as the crisis sparked by Islamic State, also known as Isil, grew in neighbouring Iraq.

Last month Iran struck a deal after a decade of negotiations with world powers over its nuclear programme, with some sanctions being lifted in return for allowing inspections.

The Foreign Office has also eased its advice against travelling to Iran, saying the risk faced by British nationals had changed in parts of the country.

Mr Hammond said: “”Four years on from an attack on the British Embassy, I am today reopening it. The Iranians will simultaneously reopen their embassy in London. Our relationship has improved since 2011.

“President Rouhani’s election and last month’s nuclear agreement were important milestones. I believe that we have the potential to go much further.”

Why did the embassy close in the first place?

Following a report on Iran’s nuclear programme from the International Atomic Energy Agency, Britain imposed numerous sanction on Iran including banning all UK financial institutions from doing business with their counterparts in Iran.

In November 2011 a large group of protesters gathered outside the embassy to demand the ambassador be sent home immediately.

A 200-strong group of these pro-regime protesters overran the mission’s two compounds, setting the main building ablaze, looting the belongings of diplomats and tearing down the Union Flag.

All British diplomats were withdrawn from Iran, including the newly appointed ambassador.

William Hague, the then foreign secretary, denounced Iran’s actions as a “flagrant breach” of its “international responsibilities” under the Vienna Convention, which guarantees the protection of diplomatic premises and personnel.

The Iranian Charge F’Affaire was then told to immediately close his embassy in Britain and depart with 17 other diplomats.

Britain downgraded ties with Iran to the “lowest level consistent with the maintenance of diplomatic relations”.

However in recent years relations have thawed between the two countries, following the election of Hassan Rouhani in 2013, have thawed.

A few weeks ago Iran struck a deal on its nuclear program with six world powers — although plans to reopen the embassy were announced last summer, before the deal.