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UK-Iran ties thaw as we wait for a U.S. embassy in Tehran

In the past few weeks, political delegations have travelled to Iran and businesses are beginning to invest

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

Published: Updated:

After four years of sour relations between Iran and the UK over the 2011 assault on the British embassy in Tehran, both nations reopened their embassies on Sunday August 23.

Philip Hammond, the UK’s foreign minister, traveled to Tehran for the reopening and is also as the first British FM to visit Iran over the past 14 years.

Four years ago, in November 2011, protests kicked off in front of the British Embassy and the Residence Compound in Tehran by angry mobs against the UK sanctions relating to disputes over Iran’s nuclear program.

The temptations of economic opportunities in the post sanctions era have already attracted many foreigners

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

With the presence of police and security, agitators breached the gates and entered to the compound and embassy, damaged buildings and looted diplomatic entities.

Sadly, some magnificent artistic treasures were destroyed or lost, including an 1823 masterpiece painting of the second Qajar Shah of Iran worth £1.2 million ($2 million). The Qajar Shah gifted the painting to the British ambassador to Persia in the early 19th century.

A few were arrested after the attack but none of them appeared in court or were charged.

Since the revolution

Since the revolution, two foreign embassies have been attacked in Iran. Once at the beginning of the revolution, in 1980, the U.S. embassy was seized and American diplomats were held as hostages for 444 days and then in 2011, the British embassy was attacked.

The relationship with the U.S. was never restored but the case with Britain was different and since Rowani become president, he thawed the relationship by meeting the British prime minister on the sidelines of the UK General Assembly in 2013.

Despite the damages of the sanctions and Iran’s violation of its international obligations under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, it is significant that the British foreign minister himself came to Tehran for the reopening to show the importance of this relationship.

The Iranian nuclear accord, which was reached with the blessing of the Western powers in Vienna on July 14, has opened this opportunity for Iran to normalize its relations with world.

"Over the coming months, we will work to ensure that the nuclear agreement is a success, including by making sure that it is fully implemented by all sides, and through this embassy's efforts we will support British trade and investment, once sanctions are lifted. That will bring benefits for Britain and the Iranian people,” said Philip Hammond upon opening the embassy in Tehran.

The temptations of economic opportunities in the post sanctions era have already attracted many foreigners including Germany, France, Spain and the UK.

In the past few weeks, political delegations have travelled to Iran and businesses are beginning to invest as President Hassan Rowani expressed his nation’s willingness to increase its trade and relations with world.

A new era?

Is it a new era of trade and diplomacy?

“The important thing is to distinguish between agreement to have a civilized dialogue and agreement to agree on everything. We clearly don’t agree on everything. We will have still have substantial differences of view about many areas of policy and regional politics. But the fact is we will now have a structure and a mechanism where we will be able to speak to each other regularly and in a relatively low-key way about these issues,” Philip Hammond added.

The UK, as a major and strategic ally to the United Sates, can influence the U.S. Congress in the coming days when they vote on the Iran accord on September 17.

At the joint British-Iranian press conference, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dodged a question from Reuters news agency asking if there was a chance that the U.S. would open up an embassy in Iran. When will that decision be made and by whom?

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Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard


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