Bloomberg News

U.K. Expels Iranian Diplomats as Tehran Faces Isolation

December 02, 2011

(Updates with Hague comments in fourth paragraph.)

Dec. 1 (Bloomberg) -- The U.K. ordered Iran to close its embassy in London and remove its diplomats in the aftermath of a mob attack on the British Embassy in Tehran.

Iran’s isolation deepened as France and Germany recalled their ambassadors for consultations and Italy considered closing its mission in the Iranian capital. Britain closed its embassy in Tehran and evacuated the staff following the attack.

The storming of the embassy grounds two days ago brought international condemnation, including from the U.S., which is leading an international effort to tighten an economic noose on the country over its disputed nuclear activities. U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said he will push at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels today for the 27- nation bloc to expand measures against Iran.

“I will be advocating an intensification of economic sanctions on Iran, particularly to increase to isolation of the Iranian financial sector,” Hague said in an interview from Brussels with BBC Radio 4’s “Today” show. “The measures I hope we will agree today are related to the Iranian nuclear program, they are not in reaction to what happened to our embassy,” he said, calling Iran’s atomic work “our bigger long-term concern.”

‘Fanciful’

Announcing the closing of the Iranian Embassy in London in the House of Commons yesterday, Hague said it is “fanciful” to think the attack could have happened without some degree of regime consent.

“If any country makes it impossible for us to operate on their soil, they can’t have a functioning embassy here,” Hague told lawmakers.

Iranian state media said the protesters on Nov. 29 were from the Basij, a militia linked to the Revolutionary Guard Corps. They entered the main embassy building in downtown Tehran and a British residential compound in the north of the capital, tearing down the U.K. flag and Queen Elizabeth II’s picture, breaking windows and rifling through documents.

Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, called the attackers “government-controlled rent-a-mobs.”

48-Hour Deadline

All Iranian diplomats must leave the U.K. within 48 hours, Hague said yesterday, as a result of the “grave violation” of the Vienna Convention, which requires host governments to protect foreign diplomats. Britain is seeking compensation from the Iranian government, he said.

While the shutdown of Iran’s mission doesn’t amount to a severing of diplomatic ties, the reopening of the Iranian Embassy in London can only take place “in a much-improved situation to the one we’re in today,” he said.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, said yesterday in a statement e-mailed to the Agence France- Presse newswire that “the British government’s asking Iranian diplomats in London to leave this country is a passive and hasty action.”

A day earlier, the ministry “expressed regret over the unacceptable actions of a few protesters” in a statement posted on the website of Iran’s embassy in London.

The assault came a week after the U.K. joined the U.S. in expanding sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, which the allies say may be hiding bomb-making efforts.

‘Nationalist Feelings’

The attack reflects “a revival of nationalist feelings in Iran” as the country’s leadership comes under increasing pressure, according to Mustafa Alani, director of national security at the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center. That pressure has been intensified by concern that the Syrian government under Iran’s ally, Bashar al-Assad, may collapse in the face of popular protests.

“Britain was heavily involved in Libya and possibly will be involved in Syria and so there is general belief in Iran that the British are doing the job of the U.S. in the region, including spying on Iran,” Alani said in a telephone interview. “The Iranians are panicking and they don’t know what to do. This reaction against the U.K. and possibly against other countries is part of this panicking mood.”

The Guardian Council, Iran’s highest legislative body, on Nov. 28 endorsed parliament’s move to downgrade diplomatic ties with Britain, including the expulsion of its ambassador, after the U.K. joined the U.S. in expanding its sanctions.

Avoiding Military Clash

All options for dealing with Iran remain on the table, Hague told lawmakers, though he said he isn’t backing military action.

“We’re not advocating a military strike by anybody,” Hague said. “While the possession of nuclear weapons by Iran would be a calamity for the world, it’s quite possible military action against Iran would be calamitous.”

The French Foreign Ministry announced the recall of its ambassador in an e-mailed statement yesterday. Italy is pressing the Iranian government for safety guarantees for its embassy personnel and may close the embassy, Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi told reporters in Rome yesterday.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry said it summoned the Iranian ambassador in Berlin to protest the storming of the U.K. compound, which affected the German school in the capital, and is recalling its ambassador in Tehran for consultations. Norway said it temporarily closed its embassy in Tehran for security reasons.

‘Distressed and Flustered’

The U.S. and allies, including the U.K., have backed United Nations sanctions against Iran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities that they suspect are seeking to develop weapons capability. Iranian officials say the work is part of a civilian program to produce electricity and for medical purposes.

“In the past, Iran’s reaction to sanctions has been utterly dismissive,” Sadjadpour said in an e-mailed response to a question. “Attacking the U.K. Embassy paints a picture of a regime that is deeply distressed and flustered.”

--With assistance from Massoud A. Derhally in Beirut, Lebanon, Ladane Nasseri in Dubai, Tony Czuczka and Patrick Donahue in Berlin, Meera Bhatia in Oslo and Gregory Viscusi and Steve Rhinds in Paris. Editors: Andrew J. Barden, Eddie Buckle

To contact the reporters on this story: Thomas Penny in London at tpenny@bloomberg.net; Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Eddie Buckle at ebuckle@bloomberg.net


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