British embassy reopens in Tehran as Iraq crisis helps thaw Iran relations
William Hague says diplomatic base in Tehran to be restored as west looks to Iran to help tackle Isis-led insurgency in Iraq.
William Hague has announced that the British embassy in Iran will be reopened as jihadist gains in northern Iraq have forced the west to reassess its relations with Tehran.
The foreign secretary said the circumstances were right to restore the diplomatic mission after a significant thawing in relations in recent months.
“Our two primary concerns when considering whether to reopen our embassy in Tehran have been assurance that our staff would be safe and secure, and confidence that they would be able to carry out their functions without hindrance,” Hague told MPs in a written statement.
Hague’s announcement came amid reports of clashes in the city of Baquba less than 40 miles north of Baghdad, the closest the fighting has come to the Iraqi capital since jihadists led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) took over most of the northern part of the country last week.
Insurgents took control of parts of Baquba overnight but were pushed back, army and police officers told Agence France-Presse. The attack took place in the centre of the capital of Diyala province and, according to the officers, militants temporarily occupied several neighbourhoods.
Fighting also took place in the village of Basheer, nine miles south of the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, where an attack by militants was repelled after an hour of clashes.
Isis fighters supported by disaffected Sunnis have swept through towns in the north but appeared to have halted their advance on Baghdad. The swift advance has faced little opposition from US-trained Iraqi forces, triggering fears that extremists will end up controlling a swath of territory from eastern Syria to northern Iraq.
The prospect of Iraq breaking up has forced the US and Britain to look to Iran. Hague said on Tuesday that the circumstances were right to reopen the British embassy in Tehran once “a range of practical issues” had been resolved. The embassy closed in 2011 after being ransacked by a mob protesting against sanctions.
“There has never been any doubt in my mind that we should have an embassy in Tehran if the circumstances allowed,” he said. “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 UK’s global diplomatic approach. I have therefore now decided the circumstances are right to reopen our embassy in Tehran.”
However, Hague has said there is no prospect of a British military intervention in Iraq, although counter-terrorism support could be offered. A Ministry of Defence (MoD) team has been sent to Iraq to assist embassy staff in contingency planning.
The rapprochement has been in the making for months following the Iranian elections and the new regime’s more conciliatory approach to its civil nuclear programme, but it has been given an urgent push by the need to involve Iran in preventing Sunni extremists from capturing power in Iraq.