The United States and the U.N. Security Council have joined Britain in condemning Tuesday’s mob attack on the British embassy in Tehran. U.S. officials say the incident may mean that nuclear-related sanctions on Iran are beginning to have a serious impact.
The attack on the British diplomatic complex in Tehran, by what were described as hard-line students, evoked memories of the 1979 seizure and occupation of the U.S. embassy there.
It drew a sharp response from the White House, which condemned the action “in the strongest terms” and stressed Iran’s responsibility under international protocols to protect diplomatic missions and personnel.
President Obama, in a photo session with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, said he was disturbed by what he termed the “trashing” the British facility.
Unlike the 1979 attack, in which more than 50 Americans were held hostage for more than a year, all British personnel were reported safe late Tuesday though protestors entered offices, broke windows and tossed documents around the grounds.
State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said it was probably no coincidence the attack followed Britain’s announcement last week of fresh sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program.
“They need to uphold their obligations under the Vienna conventions. And they need to protect the security and safety of diplomats in Tehran. It’s hard to say frankly. But we do believe that taken in their totality, the economic sanctions against Iran are beginning to have an effect. It’s been acknowledged as much by President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad,” Toner said.
The U.N. Security Council approved a non-binding statement that condemned the embassy attack and called on Iran to fully comply with international obligations. Russia and China, which have resisted additional Security Council sanctions on Tehran, joined in the unanimous vote on the document.
A senior State Department official who spoke to reporters said it was “hard to imagine” the attack did not have at least tacit support of some Iranian officials.
Iran expert Michael Rubin, resident scholar at Washington’s American Enterprise Institute, said Iranian police could have pushed the protestors back rather than “giving way.” He said the notion Tuesday’s attack was spontaneous has “no credibility.”
Rubin said Iran’s Islamic government has a history of threats to diplomatic property in Tehran and only a united approach by the world community can end it.
“Ultimately, solidarity matters. Certainly the Iranians have never been called to account for seizing embassies - be it the American embassy, being it attacking in the past the British or the German embassies, or now taking the British embassy. Simply put, Iran needs to be isolated diplomatically - and completely - until they learn that they have to respect embassies,” Rubin said.
The former Pentagon official said Tuesday’s attack, in the wake of the British sanctions move, suggests Iran fears economic isolation much more than diplomatic isolation and that perhaps “it is time to enforce both.”