News / Europe

Britain Withdraws Some Diplomats From Iran

Protesters remove the flag of the British embassy in Tehran, November 29, 2011.
Protesters remove the flag of the British embassy in Tehran, November 29, 2011.
Henry Ridgwell

The British government is pulling some diplomatic staff out of Iran following Tuesday's attack on its embassy in Tehran by a group of protesters. On Sunday, Iranian lawmakers voted to weaken diplomatic ties after Britain imposed new sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Related report by Henry Ridgwell

Hundreds of students gathered Tuesday outside the British Embassy in Tehran to protest against the sanctions, chanting "Death to Britain."

Several demonstrators scaled the fence before ransacking the buildings. One protestor appeared to be waving a portrait of the British Queen. Staff fled the embassy through a back door.

Regrets not enough

Iran expressed regret over the incident. But Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said that was not good enough.

"We hold the Iranian government responsible for its failure to take adequate measures to protect our embassy as it is required to do... Clearly there will be other, further, and serious consequences," he said.

Britain is urging its citizens in Iran to "stay indoors and keep a low profile," he said.

The attack comes two days after the Iranian parliament voted to downgrade diplomatic relations with London.

Increased pressure

Last week, Britain strengthened sanctions against Iran, cutting all links with its banks. The US and Canada also tightened their sanctions.

It follows a report from the UN’s nuclear watchdog the IAEA, suggesting Tehran is still pursuing a nuclear weapon.

Andrea Berger of London analyst group RUSI says the report stretched the West’s patience with Iran.

"The diplomatic avenue in compelling Iran to renounce nuclear weapons is perhaps not going to be pursued as actively as it may have been in the past, and we may be moving towards increasingly harsh approaches such as sanctions," said Berger.

Despite the sudden escalation of tensions, Berger says the IAEA report does not suggest Iran is on the brink of becoming a nuclear power.

"The report’s inconclusiveness of the current developments in possible military dimensions suggests that there is no smoking gun. However that’s no reason for complacency on the part of major countries pursuing policies such as sanctions," Berger said.

British media is comparing Tuesday’s scenes to the storming of the U.S. Embassy in 1979, when militants held 52 Americans hostage for over a year.

Additional reaction

President Obama said he was ‘disturbed’ by the attack on the British Embassy.

The UN Security Council condemned also condemned the incident.

Analysts say that in the space of a few days, Western relations with Iran have taken a dramatic turn for the worse.

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