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Britain Will ‘Tread Carefully’ as Embassy Reopens in Iran

  • Henry Ridgwell

After reaching a deal with world powers over its nuclear program in July, Iran’s apparent diplomatic rehabilitation continues. Britain has reopened its embassy in Tehran, four years after it was ransacked by protesters. Iran has also reopened its embassy in London.

After visiting the newly re-opened British Embassy in Tehran, London’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said it was vital to open a dialogue with Iran's leaders.

“We are clear-eyed about what the future offers us: big opportunities. But we know that there will be areas where we continue to disagree and sometimes to disagree strongly," he said. "We won't shirk from that.”

Iran expelled Britain’s ambassador in November 2011 over its support for tougher sanctions.

Two days later hundreds of protesters stormed the embassy. Britain responded by closing Iran’s embassy in London.

Relations have steadily improved since the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. His foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, hailed a new start in relations. He said that Iran and Britain have entered a new stage of ties based on mutual respect and a policy of constructive interaction and dialogue.

Iran’s embassy in London also reopened this week. The British government says the reopening of the embassies is not just a symbolic move, but also a practical channel to engage on many issues of concern.

With diplomatic ties warming, countries like Britain are eyeing economic opportunities, says former diplomat Mehrdad Khonsari.

“Given that Iran is perhaps the largest ‘untouched’ you might say, major market in the world,” he said.

The rise of the Islamic State terror group is also forging new alliances.

“Iran, which has been perceived as a hostile country, is actually engaging these people on the ground," Khonsari said. "So the time for re-evaluation, I think, has arrived.”

The British foreign secretary said the first Western sanctions against Iran could be lifted early next year. Iranians are desperate for investment and opportunities, says Khonsari.

“The priority of the people at this time is not obviously thinking about democracy," he said. "The priority at this time is jobs, it’s social security, it’s pensions.”

Iran’s foreign minister said Monday it was ‘too early’ to consider re-opening the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, but Washington has not indicated its willingness to restore full diplomatic ties.