Britain evacuates its diplomats from Iran; Norway shuts embassy


BAGHDAD — One day after the sacking of its embassy in
Tehran by pro-regime Iranian militants, Britain on Wednesday evacuated
all its diplomats from Iran, closed its embassy and ordered the
expulsion of all Iranian diplomats from London within 48 hours.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told Parliament the attack was a “grave
violation” of diplomatic convention in a speech delivered moments after
the last British diplomat had left Iran. Norway also shut its embassy,
and Germany announced that it was recalling its ambassador amid reports
that other European nations may follow suit.

developments were the latest salvo in an increasingly bitter clash
between the Islamic Republic — burdened by an increasing array of
sanctions over its nuclear program — and the West.

Tuesday, dozens of basiji, as members of the pro-regime political
militia are called, stormed the embassy, tore down and burn British
flags, and carted away the cast-iron coat of arms featuring two lions.

Wednesday, a statement published in the name of hundreds of “student”
protesters by the semi-official Fars News Agency, which is linked to
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard force, declared that such actions would

also reported that police used tear gas to clear the embassy, and
arrested a dozen protesters at the embassy’s residential garden compound
further north in Tehran.

“The revolutionary
students’ move today and occupation of the Old Fox’s Den of Plots
(British Embassy) was only a meager response to this declaration of war
and Britain should wait for the coming moves of the great Iranian nation
who intends to settle an old score for years of plotting (against
Iran),” the statement read.

Persian-language news
websites identified in photographs some of the protesters as leaders of
the Basij militia, which is commanded by the Guard, and the Guard’s Quds
Force, which handles Iranian military and covert actions abroad.

Iran’s supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei nor President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose respective supporters have been locked in
political battle since last spring, have yet spoken about the events.
But Khamenei’s representative to the universities said students had
proven that “they found the center of sedition,” an indication that
Khamenei supported the action.

“An attack like
that could not have happened unless it was approved quite high up,” said
Massoumeh Torfeh, an Iran specialist at the School of Oriental and
African Studies at the University of London. “I don’t know what level it
was on, because we haven’t heard yet from Khamenei, but it must have
come from a high source.”

The latest spark was
London’s recent decision to target Iran’s central bank with sanctions
aimed at halting Iran’s nuclear work, which the U.S., Britain, and
Israel believe is aimed at making a bomb.

Iran’s anger at Britain — beyond historical grudges that stretch back
centuries, dates to the 2009 presidential election, when millions of
Iranians took to the street to protest the declared re-election of
Ahmadinejad, only to be crushed.

Among Iran’s
foreign enemies, which include the U.S. and Israel, Britain was singled
out then for being the most determined to overthrow the regime.

has been mounting on the relationship between Iran and the U.K. over
the past two years, triggered by the 2009 post-election protest, which
was widely reported by the newly set-up BBC Persian TV, which the
Iranian government described as a ‘soft war’ on Iran,” Torfeh said.

new British sanctions aimed at Iran’s central bank added to the anger
since they strike directly at the Revolutionary Guard, the main engine
of Iran’s economy, she said.

Ahmadinejad admitted to parliament in recent weeks that Iran was facing “the biggest offensive in history.”

“All our purchases and sales, all our agreements are being monitored and blocked,” he said.

attack on the embassy, which took place as the basijis and other
militants were marking the anniversary of the assassination of nuclear
scientist Majid Shahriari, revealed a broader issue about the internal
political fight in Iran.

“It illustrates their frustration with the sanctions regime,” Torfeh said.

watcher Scott Lucas on his EAWorldview website suggested that Iran’s
actions stemmed from a position of weakness. He said a combination of
factors, economic problems, a spate of recent unexplained explosions at
military and industrial facilities, and a report from the U.N.’s nuclear
watchdog agency that details past weapons-related projects, prompted
the “regime … to hit back.”

He said Iran could be using the prospect of military confrontation to help them mask economic problems and political infighting.

decision earlier this week to expel the British ambassador, after just
one month on the job, was a “very big mistake,” Torfeh said.

British ambassador was one of the high-ranking diplomats who was
actually in Tehran. He could have been used by the (Iranian regime) as a
way of resolving the problems with the West. Instead now … they have
set themselves up against the rest of the world, and made themselves far
more isolated.”


(McClatchy Newspapers and The Christian Science Monitor operate a joint news bureau in Baghdad.)

Distributed by MCT Information Services