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British embassy attack exposes tensions outside – and inside – Iran

Some Iranian conservatives praised yesterday's attack on the British embassy, while others condemned it as endangering national security as tensions rise with the West.

By Staff writer / November 30, 2011

A British police officer stands guard outside the Iranian Embassy in London, Wednesday. Britain's foreign secretary on Wednesday ordered all Iranian diplomats out of the UK within 48 hours following attacks on the British embassy and a residential compound in Tehran.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP



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

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The decision is 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.

It also reflects divisions among hard-line conservatives within Iran's ruling elite, as members of the basiji ideological militia and others stormed the embassy walls, tore down and burned British flags, and carted away the cast-iron coat of arms featuring two lions. Today some conservative voices and websites praised the attack, while others condemned it as endangering national security.

The attack was a "grave violation" of diplomatic convention, British Foreign Secretary William Hague told Parliament moments after the last British diplomat had left Iran.

"Iran is a country where opposition leaders are under house arrest, where more than 500 people have been executed so far this year, and where genuine protest is ruthlessly stamped on," said Mr. Hague. "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."

Shortly afterward, Norway shut its embassy and Germany announced that it was recalling its ambassador from Tehran, amid reports that other European nations may follow.

Regime involvement?

The scene yesterday resembled that in November 1979, shortly after Iran's Islamic revolution, when militant students seized the US Embassy in Tehran and held 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days – paving the way for a generation of hostilities between the US and Iran.

While the US and Israel still rank as "enemies" in Iran – the flags of both nations were set alight with the Union Jack yesterday – Iranian officials have recently aimed more hostility toward Britain.

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 US, Britain, and Israel believe is aimed at making a bomb.

Iranian officials decried the British move as an act of war, moved to expel British Ambassador Dominick Chilcott, and promised that more steps would be taken.


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