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Britain Orders Closure of Iran Embassy in London

Britain has ordered the closure of the Iranian embassy in London and has shut its mission in Tehran after it was attacked by protesters, Foreign Secretary William Hague said Wednesday.

He also accused the Iranian government of involvement in Tuesday’s attack, saying it was “fanciful” to suggest that it could not have stopped the mob.

However, he said the embassy closures did not represent a formal severing of ties between Britain and Iran, but simply a downgrading to the “lowest level”.

Hague was speaking to parliament the day after protesters rampaged through two British diplomatic compounds in the Iranian capital, one of which contained its embassy, tearing down the British flag and setting documents alight.

“The Iranian charge (d’affaires) in London is being informed now that we require the immediate closure of the Iranian embassy in London and that all Iranian diplomatic staff must leave the United Kingdom within the next 48 hours,” he announced, to sounds of support in the chamber.

“If any country makes it impossible for us to operate on their soil they cannot expect to have a functioning embassy here.”

To ensure the safety of British staff in Iran, “we have now closed the British embassy in Tehran”, Hague added.

“We have decided to evacuate all our staff and, as of the last few minutes, the last of our UK-based staff have now left Iran.”

Hague also expressed scepticism at what he called the “belated” response by the Iranian authorities to stop the protesters attacking the compounds.

“Iran is a country where opposition leaders are under house arrest, where more than 500 people have been executed so far this year, and where genuine protest is ruthlessly stamped on,” he said.

“The idea that the Iranian authorities could not have protected our embassy or that this assault could have taken place without some degree of regime consent is fanciful.”

He conceded relations with Iran were strained over its nuclear programme, but “no difficulty in relations can ever excuse in any way or under any circumstances the failure to protect diplomatic staff and diplomatic premises”.

Hague said he called the Iranian foreign minister on Tuesday to protest and received an apology and an assurance that action would be taken in response.

He said diplomatic ties would continue with Iran, albeit at a reduced level.

“This does not amount to the severing of diplomatic relations in their entirety. It is action that reduces our relations with Iran to the lowest level consistent with the maintenance of diplomatic relations,” he said.

The foreign secretary also thanked the international community for its support over the attacks, singling out France, the United Arab Emirates and the Turkish foreign minister for his “prompt and helpful intervention”.

Hague added that Britain would not be deterred from criticising Iran’s nuclear programme which Western nations believe is intended to create a nuclear arsenal.

“If the Iranian government thinks we will be diverted from these responsibilities by the intimidation of our embassy staff they will be making a serious mistake,” he said.

Copyright © 2011 AFP

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