BEIRUT

Middle East

Top British diplomat in Iran for talks

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (R), France's Stategic Affairs director Jacques Audibert (2nd L) and British Foreign Office Political Director Simon Gass (L) take part in talks on Iran's nuclear program in the Kazakh city of Almaty on February 27, 2013. AFP PHOTO / POOL / ILYAS OMAROV

LONDON: The most senior British diplomat to visit Iran since the sacking of Britain's embassy in 2011 arrived in Tehran on Monday for talks with Iranian officials, the Foreign Office said.

Political Director Simon Gass would discuss a "range of bilateral and international issues" with Iranian officials, the Foreign Office in London said.

Gass is also Britain's lead negotiator in talks on Iran's nuclear programme and was Britain's ambassador in Tehran between 2009 and 2011.

Ties between Britain and Iran have recently warmed, with newly-named non-resident charges d'affaires making a series of trips between Tehran and London.

"Sir Simon's visit is the next stage in the step-by-step approach to improving relations between our two countries," a Foreign Office statement said.

"During his visit, Sir Simon is holding discussions with his Iranian counterparts on a range of bilateral and international issues."

According to a Tehran-based Western diplomat aware of the trip, the visit is about reopening Britain's embassy in Tehran, not upcoming talks on Iran's disputed nuclear programme.

Britain shuttered the embassy when hundreds of Islamist students stormed the compound in November 2011, and then ordered the closure of Iran's mission in London.

The students -- protesting against Western sanctions over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme -- ransacked the building as well as the ambassador's residence in north Tehran.

Iran and Britain officially resumed diplomatic relations in February.

 

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