UK, Iran resume ties after problematic past


The British embassy has been reopened in the Iranian capital of Tehran

ANKARA – The U.K. and Iran have resumed ties with the reopening of the British embassy in the Iranian capital of Tehran on Sunday. 

The decision of mutually reopening diplomatic missions from the two countries came following the recently reached deal between Iran and the world powers’ group on Iran’s nuclear program, which had led to UN sanctions.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was present at the reopening ceremony. He is the first British foreign secretary to visit Iran in 12 years.

“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,” Hammond said.

The U.K. embassy in Tehran was shut down in 2011 when a group of protesters raided and looted the building and ambassador’s residence during a rally against nuclear program-related sanctions on Iran. Iranian diplomats in the U.K. were also declared persona non grata.

Since then diplomatic relations between the U.K. and Iran have been tense and remained at the level of non-resident charge d’affaires.

Iran-U.K. ties have been fraught with ups and downs — mostly downs — since former Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, who had nationalized the oil industry, was ousted in a coup — known as Operation Ajax — orchestrated by U.K. and U.S. intelligence services in 1953. 

After the Islamic revolution in 1979, the U.K. closed its embassy in Tehran in 1980 and then reopened it in 1988. 

On Feb. 14, 1989, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had “sentenced to death” the British novelist Salman Rushdie — who was living in London at the time — for his book The Satanic Verses. Khomeini claimed it denigrated Islam. Diplomatic ties with the U.K. were thus broken once again on March 7, 1989 only to be restored in 1999. 

On Sept. 24, 2001, former British Foreign Minister Jack Straw visited Iran to seek cooperation after the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S. and became the first British foreign secretary to visit Iran since the 1979 revolution.

But in 2002, the U.K.’s ambassador in Tehran David Reddaway was rejected by the Iranian government, which claimed he was a spy. 

In June 2004, Iran detained eight British soldiers for three days after their vessel reportedly strayed into Iranian waters. 

Tehran was also blamed for being behind attacks against British soldiers in Iraq during the U.S. and the U.K.’s occupation of Iraq. 

In October 2004, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blamed the U.K. for the bomb attacks, which killed six people, in southwestern Iran. The U.K. denied the accusation.

In 2007, the Queen of England knighted Salman Rushdie, to which Tehran reacted strongly. This resulted in the two countries deporting the other’s diplomats on June 23, 2007.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected in June 2009. The opposition claimed electoral fraud and there were mass protests across Iran, in which 20 people died.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemned the violence and press censorship.

Iran claimed the protests were planned in the British embassy. Iran detained two people working in the embassy and deported a BBC correspondent working in Tehran. 

In November 2011, the U.K. announced new sanctions against Iran because of its reported nuclear program. 

After the U.K.’s decision, on Nov. 27, the Iranian parliament voted for the British ambassador to Iran to be expelled from the country. Two days later, protesters attacked the U.K embassy in Tehran. 

The U.K. ordered all Iranian diplomats to leave Britain within 48 hours. A group attacked the embassy building in Tehran after the departure of the ambassador and relations were broken.

In June 2013, Hassan Rouhani, who is thought to be a more moderate president than his predecessor Ahmadinejad, was elected. Following Rouhani’s election, the then-U.K. foreign secretary, William Hague, said that time had come to reopen the British embassy in Tehran.