British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is set to reopen his country’s embassy in the Iranian capital Sunday, four years after the facility was stormed and burned by violent protesters. The visit to Tehran is the first by a top British diplomat since 2003.
In a formal statement, Hammond said Iran’s embassy in London will open at the same time, initially at the charge d’affaires level, with the aim of installing ambassadors at both facilities in the coming months.
The British diplomat cited improved relations with Tehran, saying a diplomatic thaw was first noted two years ago with the election of reputed moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
“President Rouhani’s election and last month’s nuclear agreement were important milestones,” Hammond said. “I believe we have the potential to go much further.”
The Foreign Office said a small British trade delegation will accompany Hammond to discuss future trade opportunities made possible by last month’s landmark nuclear agreement.
Britain said four years ago that the attack on its diplomatic compound could not have occurred without the tacit approval of the Iranian leadership in power at that time.
The violence erupted after the Iranian parliament voted to expel the British ambassador in retaliation for Britain-led sanctions against Iran’s banking sector.
Swarms of students penetrated the British facility, tearing down the British flag, torching offices and destroying a painting of 19th century British Queen Victoria.
Following the rampage, Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the mission an “evil embassy.” London responded by cutting diplomatic contacts to their lowest level, while not severing ties completely.