The storming of the British Embassy compound in Tehran could provide extra
ammunition to European governments pushing for stronger sanctions against Iran –
in particular a contentious embargo on Iranian oil, diplomats said
EU foreign ministers plan to meet in Brussels on Thursday to
map out Europe’s response to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency
in recent weeks that suggested Iran has worked on designing an atom
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Much has already been agreed – the EU will add 180 names to a list
of people and entities targeted by pan-European sanctions – but a number of EU
capitals have yet to decide exactly how much economic pressure the EU should
apply on Iran over its nuclear program, which it says is
Tuesday’s attack on the British Embassy by dozens of students
and protesters angry over Britain’s unilateral sanctions could go some way
towards convincing them stronger action is needed, diplomats said.
a political point of view this [attack] cannot, I think, work in the direction
of EU-member states wanting to ease pressure on Iran,” the diplomat said. “On
the contrary. The whole question is do we go further and add a new set of
sanctions apart from those adopted in the past?” Britain shut down the Iranian
Embassy in London and evacuated all its staff on Wednesday, while Germany
recalled its ambassador to Iran.
British diplomats said Wednesday the
storming of the British diplomatic mission in Tehran could not have taken place
without some degree of consent from Iranian authorities.
Secretary William Hague also said the British Embassy in Tehran had been closed
and all staff evacuated following the attack on Tuesday by a crowd that broke
through gates, ransacked offices and burned British flags in a protest over
sanctions imposed by Britain on the Tehran government.
It was the most
violent incident so far as relations between the two countries steadily
deteriorate due to Iran’s wider dispute with the West over its nuclear
On top of its ban on British financial institutions dealing with
Iran and its central bank last week, Britain has called for further measures,
and a diplomatic source said London would now support a ban on oil imports from
the Islamic Republic.
Hague said Iranian ambassadors across the European
Union had been summoned to receive strong protests over the incident. But
Britain stopped short of severing ties with Iran completely.
charge [d’affaires] in London is being informed now that we require the
immediate closure of the Iranian Embassy in London and that all Iranian
diplomatic staff must leave the United Kingdom within the next 48 hours,” Hague
“We have now closed the British Embassy in Tehran. We
have decided to evacuate all our staff and, as of the last few minutes, the last
of our UK-based staff have now left Iran.”
It was the worst crisis
between Britain and Iran since full diplomatic relations were restored in 1999,
10 years after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa to kill author Salman Rushdie
for his book The Satanic Verses.
Hague said it was “fanciful” to think
the Iranian authorities could not have protected the British Embassy, or that
the assault could have taken place without “some degree of regime
“This does not amount to the severing of diplomatic relations
in their entirety. It is action that reduces our relations with Iran to
the lowest level consistent with the maintenance of diplomatic relations,” he
British Prime Minister David Cameron chaired meetings of the
government’s crisis committee on Tuesday night and again on Wednesday morning to
decide London’s response.
But mindful of the 1979 seizure of the US
embassy in Tehran, when radical students held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days,
Britain waited till all its two dozen diplomatic staff and dependents left the
country to announce its move.
“It’s rock bottom as far as Anglo-Iranian
relations are concerned,” said Ali Ansari, director of the Institute for Iranian
Studies at St. Andrews University in Scotland. “The Iranians have a mountain to
climb. I don’t think they fully understand how difficult it is for them
Negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program are now “dead,” he
“What you are moving into is a period of containment and
quarantine. I don’t think we are into a military confrontation, but we are into
a period of containment and they [the West] are going to try and tighten the
In another response the the storming of the British Embassy compounds, Germany’s
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle recalled on Wednesday the country’s
ambassador to Iran. The German daily Tagesspiegel
and other media reported that
Westerwelle recalled Ambassador Bernd Ebel.
Germany’s Foreign Ministry
summoned Iran’s Ambassador Ali Reza Seikh Attar for a warning because of the
violation of diplomatic protocol and international law. According to a statement
on the website of the German Foreign Ministry: “Guido Westerwelle condemned
sharply the storming of the British Embassy in Tehran on November
“Germany stands on the side of Great Britain and is not prepared to
accept these types of attacks. Iran has the obligation to protect international
institutions. The Iranian Ambassador in Berlin was summoned because of the
attack to the Foreign Ministry.”
Germany has also reduced its diplomatic
staff in Tehran after the assault on the embassy.
The highly unusual move
to recall Ebel, who had praised the “treasured” German-Iranian relationship
during his arrival to Tehran several years ago, raised eyebrows.
Amirsedghi, a German- Iranian intellectual, told The Jerusalem Post
she “is pleased” with Germany’s decision to recall its ambassador and sees it as
“sign of solidarity” with the United Kingdom.
She told the Post
telephone conversation that “I wish it had happened earlier” and stressed that
the Federal Republic should break all diplomatic contact with Iran, including
expelling the Iranian Ambassador to Berlin.
She termed the measure a
“halfsanction” and said it is important that Germany “endures its love
Critics, like The Wall Street Journal Europe
’s editorial page,
have run editorials over the years stating “Germany loves Iran” because
diplomatic, political and economic relations remain strong.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bernard Valero said that following the embassy
attack, Paris would push foreign ministers in Brussels to look at sanctions
beyond what had already been agreed – especially proposals made by President
Nicolas Sarkozy to freeze the central bank’s assets and to ban oil
French sources say Paris feels the attack has added to the
already long list of factors playing against Tehran, and those that have wavered
will be more inclined to listen to the French proposals.
In the past
week, some EU capitals have insisted it is too early to adopt them, concerned
about the economic consequences of tighter restrictions on a big OPEC-oil
Experts says a European embargo could boost global crude prices
at a time when Europe is teetering on the brink of recession and struggling with
a mounting debt crisis.
Greece, in particular, has expressed reluctance,
EU diplomats say.
Traders say debt-strapped Athens has been relying on
Iranian oil, which comes with an attractive financing offer at a time when banks
are increasingly denying it credit.
In addition to discussing sanctions,
EU governments are expected to issue a stern warning to Tehran over the attack
on Britain’s interests, expressing their “outrage,” EU diplomats said, using a
word seldom used in diplomat communiques.
Washington had sharp words for
Iran in the wake of Tuesday’s attack on the British Embassy in
Hours after the White House released a statement condemning the
attack the State Department expressed “outrage” at the rampage that led to the
withdrawal of the UK’s diplomatic corps from Iran on Wednesday.
another example of Iran’s disregard for its international obligations,” said
State Department Spokesman Mark Toner. “They need to uphold their obligations
under the Vienna Convention and they need to protect the security and safety of
diplomats in Tehran. It’s hard to say, frankly, but we do believe – as we’ve
said before – that taken in totality, that the economic sanctions against Iran
are beginning to have an effect.”
Earlier, White House Press Secretary
Jay Carney said in a statement that “the United States condemns in the strongest
terms the storming of the British Embassy in Tehran. Iran has a responsibility
to protect the diplomatic missions present in its country and the personnel
stationed at them.
“We urge Iran to fully respect its international
obligations, to condemn the incident, to prosecute the offenders and to ensure
that no further such incidents take place either at the British Embassy or any
other mission in Iran.”