Middle East

U.K. to re-open Iran embassy in breakthrough

British Foreign Secretary William Hague leaves number 10 Downing Street in London on June 17, 2014 as he leaves to address parliament. AFP PHOTO / ANDREW COWIE

LONDON: Britain said Tuesday it would re-open its embassy in Iran “within months,” after a hiatus of more than two-and-a-half years, a diplomatic breakthrough that underscores the West’s desire to secure Tehran’s help in Iraq and elsewhere.

The announcement, by British Foreign Secretary William Hague, will raise hopes of a breakthrough in talks with world powers about Iran’s disputed nuclear program. It coincided with negotiations aimed at securing such a agreement.

Britain severed direct diplomatic relations with Iran after activists stormed its embassy in Tehran in late 2011. The 2013 election in Iran of a relative moderate, President Hassan Rouhani, who replaced hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, paved the way for a thaw in ties.

Hague said Britain would move quickly to re-establish a small initial presence at the Tehran embassy but said it wouldn’t be able to offer visa services to Iranians at first.

“Iran is an important country in a volatile region, and maintaining embassies around the world, even under difficult conditions, is a central pillar of the U.K.’s global diplomatic approach,” Hague said in a written statement to parliament. “I have ... now decided the circumstances are right to reopen our embassy in Tehran.”

Hague said he had discussed the matter with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Saturday and stressed the need for embassy staff to be able to work without hindrance in Tehran.

The decision did not mean Britain was “softening” any of its policies toward Iran, he said.

“We look to Iran to cease support for sectarian groups elsewhere in the Middle East, to reach a successful conclusion to nuclear negotiations. But I do believe it is important to discuss such issues with Iran and we need the ability to do so.”

Calling for Iran to take a “more realistic approach” to nuclear talks, Hague urged Iran to improve its ties with its neighbors including the Gulf states to try to defuse tensions in the region.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 18, 2014, on page 10.




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