Britain and Iran re-open embassies in London and Tehran

Foreign secretary Philip Hammond will hoist Union flag in embassy compound, four years after incursion

Protesters storm British embassy in Tehran, Iran, in 2011
(Image credit: FarsNews/Getty Images)

The British embassy in Tehran and the Iranian embassy in London will both re-open this weekend, four years after Iranian protesters stormed the Britain compound and diplomatic relations between the two nations were reduced to a minimum.

Britain's embassy will be re-opened by Philip Hammond, as he becomes only the second foreign secretary to visit Iran since the 1979 revolution – and the first to do so for 12 years – says the Daily Telegraph.

The embassy in Tehran has been under de facto Iranian control since angry students burst in and stole computers and hard drives in November 2011. The decision to re-open was made a year ago but technical wrangles have delayed things.

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Iran was reluctant to relax import weight restrictions which made it difficult for the UK to bring in communications equipment to replace that which was stolen during the 2011 attack.

Hammond will raise a new Union flag this weekend – the BBC reported in 2011 that the protesters had burnt the original. The failure of the Iranian authorities to prevent the incursion angered Britain and led to the embassy's closure.

While the embassies both closed, some sort of diplomatic relations were maintained throughout: Britain has a non-resident charge d'affaires for Iran, Ajay Sharma. Sharma is to move to Tehran now and become ambassador.

Writing in The Guardian, Lindsay Hilsum says the re-opening is "something for both Iranians and British to celebrate", even if the UK has lagged behind other western nations in normalising relations with reformist president Hassan Rouhani.

Hammond will be accompanied by a trade delegation and Hilsum says the way may seem "clear" for business links – but Iranians do not "discard history so easily". If the UK would admit it helped depose the nationalist leader Muhammad Mossadegh in 1953, and apologise, that would really help mend the relationship, says Hilsum.

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