British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond will head to Tehran Sunday to re-open the UK’s Embassy there, four years on since it was trashed by a mob, as Tehran’s ties warm with the West.
Though London said Iran was fully responsible for the ransacking of the mission in 2011, the Foreign Office confirmed Saturday that Britain had foot the bill for restoring the embassy, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds, according to a report in British daily the Telegraph.
A British diplomatic spokesperson told the paper that negotiations were still ongoing over compensation for having to fix up the embassy, which was closed when protesters stormed the compound in 2011. He put the price tag at “the low hundred thousands,” the Telegraph reported.
Following the 2011 embassy attack, Britain said it could not have happened without the tacit consent of the Iranian regime at the time.
While Hammond is opening the embassy in Tehran, Iran’s embassy in London will reopen at the same time, he said, initially at charge d’affaires level, with a view to installing the two countries’ respective ambassadors in the coming months.
Britain’s rush to open the embassy and send a high-level delegation before negotiations over compensation are complete could be an attempt by London to play catch up, after other European countries have already begun to step up diplomatic and business ties in the wake of a nuclear deal reached last month.
“There is an element of keeping up with the Jones’s. You have European foreign ministers going to Iran with businessmen in tow, so other considerations were brushed aside,” Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute told the British paper.
European officials have been quick to step up ties with Tehran since July 14, when Iran struck a deal with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, ending a 13-year stand-off over its nuclear program.
The nuclear accord will see the lifting of economic sanctions imposed on Iran and has sparked a flurry of interest from countries seeking to re-connect with the oil-rich Islamic Republic.
Foreign Ministers from France, Germany and the EU have all visited Tehran since the deal, with business leaders joining the trips.
Hammond, making the first by a British foreign secretary since 2003, will be accompanied by treasury minister Damian Hinds and a small trade delegation over the two-day visit starting Sunday.
The delegation includes the Institute of Directors, the British Bankers’ Association, Shell Upstream International and the Confederation of British Industry, to discuss future trade opportunities following the historic nuclear agreement.
“This move does not mean that we agree on everything. But it is right that Britain and Iran should have a presence in each other’s countries,” Hammond said.
The embassy attack erupted in 2011 after the Iranian parliament voted to expel the British ambassador and reduce trade relations with Britain in retaliation for UK-led sanctions against Iran’s banking sector.
Students rampaged for hours through Britain’s diplomatic compounds in Tehran, tearing down the British flag, ripping up pictures of Queen Elizabeth II and trashing offices. Staff were seized by protesters.
Diplomatic relations were reduced to their lowest possible level, with Britain expelling Iran’s officials.
The thaw with Iran began with the June 2013 election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a reputed moderate who reached out to the West.
“President Rouhani’s election and last month’s nuclear agreement were important milestones. I believe that we have the potential to go much further,” said Hammond Saturday.
“Reopening our embassies is a key step to improved bilateral relations,” said Hammond Saturday.
“In the first instance, we will want to ensure that the nuclear agreement is a success, including by encouraging trade and investment once sanctions are lifted.”
He said London and Tehran should also be ready to discuss challenges including terrorism, regional stability, and the spread of the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria and Iraq.
Plans to reopen the embassy were announced in June last year.
Initially, the embassy will be headed by a charge d’affaires, Ajay Sharma. He was appointed in a non-resident position in November 2013 and has since visited Iran 12 times.