UK pulls diplomats out of Iran in wake of attack

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Britain has closed its embassy in Iran and all UK staff have left the country after the compound was stormed by protesters yesterday, Foreign Secretary William Hague revealed.

He announced that the Government was also requiring the closure of the Iranian embassy in London and the departure from Britain of all of its staff within the next 48 hours.

Addressing the Commons, Mr Hague said Tehran should be “ashamed” of the events that took place yesterday.

About 24 embassy staff and their dependants were based at the embassy’s office and residential compounds in Tehran.

In a statement to the Commons yesterday lunchtime, Mr Hague said the last of those staff had in the last few minutes departed from Iran.

He said the attack on the embassy was conducted by about 200 demonstrators from an organisation “controlled by elements of the Iranian regime”.

Iran’s failure to protect British diplomatic staff was a breach of the Vienna Convention and “for which any nation should be ashamed”. Relations between Britain and Iran, already difficult, have worsened in recent weeks amid renewed concerns about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s nuclear ambitions.

But Mr Hague insisted: “No difficulty in relations can ever excuse in any way or under any circumstances the failure to protect diplomatic staff and diplomatic premises.”

He said he had last night called the Iranian Foreign Minister, who had said he was “sorry for what had happened”.

“We have now closed the British Embassy in Tehran. We have decided to evacuate all our staff and as of the last few minutes all our UK-based staff have now left Iran,” Mr Hague said.

He urged against all but essential travel to Iran and said British citizens in need of help would be able to get consular assistance from other EU missions in Tehran.

“But clearly that cannot be the end of the matter. The Iranian charge 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 said. “If any country makes it impossible for us to operate on their soil they cannot expect to have a functioning embassy here.

“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.”

The attacks come two days after the Iranian parliament approved a Bill reducing diplomatic relations with Britain following London’s support of recently-upgraded US sanctions on Tehran.

The Bill – which marks a new low point in diplomatic tensions between London and Tehran – requires Iran and Britain to withdraw their ambassadors from each other’s country and reduce representation to the level of charge d’affaires.

It also calls for trade between the two countries to be reduced to “minimum levels”.

Last week, the UK announced that it had severed all financial ties with Iranian banks in response to mounting fears over the country’s nuclear ambitions.

Chancellor George Osborne said all British credit and financial institutions had to cease trading with Iran’s banks from the afternoon of Monday November 21 – the first use of the power to cut off an entire nation’s banking sector.

The move was part of a wider international effort by the United States and Canada to put pressure on the Islamic republic, which western governments accused of seeking to produce nuclear weapons for almost a decade.

Diplomatic tensions were significantly raised earlier this month after the latest assessment by the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog warned of Iran’s “capacity creep” towards an atomic weapon.

Mr Hague said that, as well as the central Tehran embassy compound, another one in the north of the city had come under attack at the same time.

“The majority of demonstrators were from a student Basij militia organisation. This is an organisation controlled by elements of the Iranian regime.

“The demonstrators proceeded systematically to vandalise and loot the homes of staff located on the site and the Ambassador’s residence. They destroyed furniture, stole property including the personal possessions of our staff and set fire to the main Embassy office building.”