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News | Iran Diplomats Back in Tehran; UK Ambassador Describes Invasion

03 Dec 2011 02:50Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Any views expressed are the authors' own. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Standard Time (IRST), GMT+3:30

LoweringUKFlagCrop.jpg8:45 a.m., 12 Azar/December 3 Iran's semiofficial Fars New Agency reports that the staff of the Islamic Republic's now shuttered London embassy returned to Tehran to a greeting by "university students" calling for a complete cessation of diplomatic ties with Great Britain. According to Fars,
The students repeated the demand on the government to freeze Tehran's relations with Britain at a ceremony held at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport half an hour after midnight to welcome back home almost two dozen diplomats and their families from London. [...]

Tens of people waiting with flower wreaths gathered at Tehran's Mehrabad airport to give the diplomats a hero's welcome.

The students chanted "Down with Britain", "Down with the US", "Students are vigilant and hate the US", and "The US embassy takeover must be repeated, the den of the old fox must be occupied".

The students also carried placards which read "Down with BBC" and "We want a full cut of ties with Britain".

Meanwhile IRNA, the official Islamic Republic News Agency, reports on a petition "signed by about 20 academics, journalists, political activists and religious figures," whom Fars characterizes as "the British elite," urging British Prime Minister David Cameron to reverse his government's decision to close the Iranian embassy and to restore full diplomatic ties. Excerpts of the petition follow, as recorded by IRNA:

It is not the Iranian government which demonstrated against British foreign policy but ordinary Iranians, understandably enraged by decades of repressive sanctions and threats of military strikes by Israel.

The government of Iran deployed dozens of riot police with tear gas to intercept the storming of the British Embassy but they were overwhelmed by an explosion of pent-up hostility to additional UK-supported financial and other restrictions.

Tehran has apologised for the damage. What more can it do?

Moreover, public demonstrations against repression and dictatorship have just been virulently supported by you in Libya. Withdrawing representatives and curbing finances and trade is surely a denial of Iran's democratic rights and cannot help the resolution of any disputes between our nations.

The UN Charter requires all diplomatic efforts to be tried before this step [of closing another country's embassy] is taken. We saw no evidence of such diplomacy before your foreign secretary's hasty action gave only 48 hours' notice.

If you want another war, which you seem to be preparing for, to placate the terrorist state of Israel, we, the British people and expatriate Iranians do not want any part in it and protest most strongly. You will be labelled as warmongers and possibly incriminated at the ICC for conspiring to attack a sovereign member of the United Nations on false premises.

We appeal to your sense of justice to restore full diplomatic relations with Iran.

IRNA did not provide the names of any of the petition's signatories, nor describe by what means it was conveyed to the British prime minister. At the time of this writing, it appears that no other news outlet has yet to report on the petition's existence.

2:50 a.m., 12 Azar/December 3 Responding to the 48-hour deadline set by British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Wednesday for their departure, the last group of Iranian diplomats and embassy staff left the United Kingdom on Friday. Hague issued the ultimatum in reaction to what he termed the "outrageous and indefensible" invasion of the British Embassy in Tehran earlier in the week. Addressing the British Parliament, he declared, "If any country makes it impossible for us to operate on their soil, they cannot expect to have a functioning embassy here." The Independent reports from London:

As officials loaded luggage on to vehicles outside the embassy...a group of 20 protesters shouted anti-regime slogans such as "terrorists, terrorists; must go, must go".

Many were members of the London Green Movement, which opposes president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and campaigns on Iranian human rights issues.

Akbar Karimiam, 49, from Iran, said: "As an Iranian, I'm embarrassed about what happened in the British embassy in Tehran.

"The Iranian embassy here is not representing the nation, it's representing the regime. We are here to say goodbye to the dictator regime represented here."

In interviews with the BBC and Sky News, British Ambassador to Iran Dominick Chilcott described the experience of Tuesday's assault on the embassy compound and the diplomatic staff's residential complex in north Tehran. Excerpts from his comments follow:

It was quite frightening. In our compound we were locked in to the chancery building. We were up on the top floor in our safe area and the mob failed to get into the building.

We'd heard them trying to smash the doors and the windows down below but they couldn't get into our part of the building, except in one point where they got into one of the consular offices and started a fire. In the end it was the fire and the smoke [...] which forced us out.

[The staff] did follow the well-established procedures, which was to try and get out of the compound if they could and two of our staff did manage to get out, although they got into a car and they were chased to the gate and just got out before the invaders reached them.

So, it must have been really frightening for them. The others did what they had to do, which was go into the safe areas, what we call the keeps, and locked themselves in.

The keeps are designed to keep them safe for a certain limited time until the police arrive. But what nobody knew then was that the police weren't going to arrive; they were waiting to let the intruders do what they wanted to do.

[In another building], one of our staff was on his own in his keep and he barricaded the door with a heavy safe and a bed, and braced himself against the wall. And for 45 minutes he could hear people bashing down the door, smashing the windows and trying to get in

It must have been a very frightening experience -- until eventually the door gave way and they got him.

Then our staff, in the end there were seven altogether, were taken to one of the properties and they were made to sit silently, they were not allowed to talk in the room by the invaders, without really knowing what was going on.

It must have been a troubling experience. They were quite roughly handled, one or two of them, as well.

Iran is not the sort of country where spontaneously a demonstration congregates and then attacks a foreign embassy. That sort of activity is only done with the acquiescence and the support of the state.

And there are a number of reasons why, with the benefit of hindsight, it's very clear that this was a state-supported activity.

Asked if he ever feared that an extended hostage situation like the one endured by the staff of the U.S. Embassy in 1979-80 would result, Chilcott replied, "It would be untrue to say that those thoughts don't go through your mind, of course, and you hope that that is not going to happen. We were in a completely new situation and how it was going to end was not predictable and the behavior of the police was so strange that we weren't sure whose side they were on, if you like, and that didn't really give us much comfort."

The ambassador also expressed his belief that the Islamic Republic's regime may have not foreseen the severity of the British reaction: "The risk is that certain people in the regime who liked the idea of confrontation, because they felt it would rally people to the flag, miscalculated how strong the response would be. They probably didn't expect us to send home the Iranian embassy in London and, reading between the lines, you can see in the way they have responded to that move, some remorse in having provoked it."

On the website of Press TV, the English-language subsidiary of the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting network, the sole mention Friday of the London embassy's closure appeared in the middle of an item disavowing regime responsibility for Tuesday's attack, which was attributed to "angry students":

Despite British allegations that Iranian authorities had organized Tuesday's protests outside the UK Embassy in Tehran, US Vice President Joe Biden says there is no such indication.

"I don't have any indication how and or if it (the protests) was orchestrated," Biden told Reuters on Thursday.

The comments stand in sharp contrast to earlier claims made by British Foreign Secretary William Hague that the protests in Iran had been state-sanctioned and orchestrated.

Hague, in an address to the UK parliament on Wednesday, blamed Iran's Basij forces for the attack, saying, "We should be clear from the outset that this is an organization controlled by elements of the Iranian regime."

Britain further used this pretext to "immediately" close Iran's Embassy in London and expel Iran's diplomatic missions from the UK.

Angry students protested outside the British Embassy on November 29, pulling down the UK flag and demanding the speedy expulsion of the British envoy.

The English-language website of IRNA, the Iranian state news agency, ran a brief report on the last stages of the London embassy's evacuation that read, in part, "Some of the diplomats, talking with IRNA on the phone, said they and their families are leaving Britain with 'dignity and pride'." According to IRNA, Britain's demand that the embassy be closed was "described by many experts as hasty and passive."

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