TEHRAN, Iran — An online photo of the Russian and British ambassadors to Tehran commemorating a historic meeting of allied leaders during World War II sparked a diplomatic row on Thursday in Iran, which had been invaded by the two powers during the period.
State media reported that Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned Levan Dzhagaryan and Simon Shercliff over the photo, even after the Russian embassy tweeted an explanation saying that it had posted the image only as a commemoration of the Allies’ fight against the Nazis.
The photo shows the two men sitting where Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill did for a photo atop the steps of the then-Soviet embassy, during the so-called Tehran Conference of the “Big Three” leading powers fighting Hitler’s Germany in 1943. The place occupied by US President Franklin Roosevelt was empty.
Iran’s outgoing foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, called the photo “inappropriate,” given that Russia and Britain had invaded Iran in 1941. August marks the 80th anniversary of the campaign, when Soviet and British armored divisions swept in largely unopposed to secure oil fields and Russian supply lines through Iran, officially neutral but considered pro-Germany at the time.
Zarif drew a connection between the photo and the stalled negotiations with world powers over Iran’s nuclear program, aimed at capping Iran’s uranium enrichment activities in return for a lifting of sanctions that have worsened the nation’s already ailing economy.
“The Iranian people have shown—including during the JCPOA talks—that their destiny can NEVER be subject to decisions in foreign embassies or by foreign powers,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.
Iran’s parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf called the photo “immoral” and urged for a “strong” diplomatic reaction if the two ambassadors do not apologize officially. Backlash also reverberated on social media.
Russia, alongside Britain, France, China, Germany and the US, have not met for months at the Vienna negotiation site.
Tehran and Moscow have improved their relations in recent decades after Russia built Iran’s sole nuclear power plant in southern Iranian port of Bushehr. They have also increased military cooperation, and Russia delivered hundreds of thousand vaccines to Iran to fight COVID-19.