Four years after a mob attack caused the British Embassy in Tehran to be closed, Britain’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, will reopen the embassy on Sunday. At the same time, the Iranian Embassy in London will reopen. Britain closed the Iranian embassy in London and expelled the diplomats after the attack destroyed its embassy. Hammond’s visit to the Iranian capital will mark the first visit by a British foreign secretary to the country in almost 12 years.
The visit by the senior British official is a sign of warming relations between Western powers and Iran, resulting from the P5+1 agreement concerning Iran’s nuclear program which was officially agreed upon just weeks ago, on July 14 . In a race to begin economic relation with Iran, the French and Italian foreign ministers, Germany’s vice-chancellor, and the EU’s foreign policy chief recently visited the country.
The purpose of Hammond’s visit is clear, since he will be accompanied by a delegation of business leaders. While there, he will meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Ali Akbar Velayati, who is a senior adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
There are still issues hindering relations between the two countries that need to be addressed. Iran is reluctant to relax import laws. Iran limits diplomatic pouches to 15 kilograms and this is insufficient to replace the necessary equipment that was destroyed in the riot. Britain also seeks assurances about visa regulations governing Iranian nationals who are in England. Britain would like to ensure that Iranians who overstay their visas can be deported back to their country, but Iranian law forbids acceptance of Iranians deported from foreign governments against their will. There are over 400,000 Iranian nationals living in England.
Relations between Britain and Iran were at an all time low after the attack in 2011. Britain claimed the Iranian government neglected to help secure the embassy against the mob of citizens. The mob ransacked the ambassadorial residence, wrecked the embassy, and burned the British flag. The riot was in response to British sanctions against Iran due to violations in their nuclear program.
It should be noted that in 2012, Canada unilaterally shut its embassy in Iran, cut off all direct diplomatic ties with Iran, and expelled all Iranian diplomats.
Students of history may remember that in 1979, the American embassy in Tehran was stormed by a mob and 52 American citizens and diplomats were held hostage for 444 days.