Britain orders out Iran's diplomats

2011-11-30 19:02

London - Britain ordered Iran on Wednesday to remove all its diplomats from the UK within 48 hours following attacks on its embassy and a residential compound in Tehran - one of the most significant diplomatic retaliations against Iran since the 1979 US embassy crisis.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons that Britain had also withdrawn its entire diplomatic staff from Iran after angry mobs hauled down Union Jack flags, torched a vehicle and tossed looted documents through windows.

The rare move to kick out a country's entire diplomatic corps marks a significant souring of ties between Iran and the West, amid deepening suspicions over Tehran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Tensions were heightened in October when US officials accused agents linked to Iran's Quds Force - an elite wing of the powerful Revolutionary Guard - of a role in an alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the US.

For many, the hours-long assault on Tuesday on the British embassy in Tehran was reminiscent of the chaotic seizure of the US embassy there in 1979.

Protesters replaced the British flag with a banner in the name of a 7th-century Shi'ite saint, Imam Hussein, and one looter showed off a picture of Queen Elizabeth II apparently taken off a wall.

"The idea that the Iranian authorities could not have protected our embassy or that this assault could have taken place without some degree of regime consent is fanciful," Hague told lawmakers.

Iran currently has 18 diplomats in Britain, according to a list kept by Britain's foreign ministry.

Britain previously ordered Iran to remove its diplomats in 1989, when the two nations broke off ties over a fatwa, or religious edict, ordering Muslims to kill British author Salman Rushdie because his novel The Satanic Verses allegedly insulted Islam.

Iran's government has expressed regret about the "unacceptable behaviour" of protesters, whose attacks began after anti-British demonstrations apparently authorized by authorities.

But Iran's Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said the "wrath of [students] resulted from several decades of domination-seeking behaviour of Britain".

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