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Good Reads: Why British diplomats consider Tehran a 'hardship post'

Yesterday's rampage by Iranian 'students' are just the latest example of how Iranian domestic anger gets focused on diplomats.

By Scott BaldaufStaff Writer / November 30, 2011

A protester opens a door in the British embassy compound in Tehran, Tuesday. Britain began evacuating diplomatic staff from Iran on Wednesday and warned of serious consequences for the Iranian government, one day after protesters stormed the British Embassy in the most violent incident yet as relations rapidly deteriorate.

Abolfazl Salmanzadeh/Mehr News Agency/Reuters

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With troops pulling out of Iraq and drawing down in Afghanistan, the global war on terror appears to be all but finished. But the reverberations from that war may be felt for some time.

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Earlier this week, US-Pakistani relations took a dive because of a NATO bombing raid on a Pakistani border post that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Yesterday, Iranian students and members of an elite volunteer militia called the “Basij” – apparently not held back by Iranian police – jumped the fence and raided the British Embassy in Tehran, prompting London to pull back most of its diplomats there. Foreign Secretary William Hague warned that there would be “serious consequences.”

America’s and Britain’s relations with Iran – which appeared to be moving toward rapprochement in the early days following Sept. 11 attacks – have since taken a nosedive after Bush administration officials increasingly attempted to draw links between Iran’s security services and Al Qaeda as well as concerns about a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program. In that context, yesterday’s protests by Iranian students make sense, but what would get them so angry to raid the British embassy is a bit hard to explain. The Guardian’s Riazat Butt does write, in his penultimate paragraph, this explanation.

The storming of the embassy was triggered by the UK's decision to sever ties to the Iranian banking system and parliament, the Majlis, after the International Atomic Energy Agency published a report citing "credible" evidence that Iranian scientists had experimented with a nuclear warhead design and could be continuing to do so.

Frequent readers of the Monitor – you know who you are – will have read Scott Peterson’s excellent piece on Nov. 8 detailing the IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program. Relying on intelligence reports and Iranian official information smuggled out of the country in a pilfered laptop, the IAEA concluded that Iran had continued to study ways to enrich uranium beyond the normal uses of civilian power-generation, and also continued to study ways to deliver a nuclear payload aboard Iran’s long-range Shahab-3 missiles. Iran has hotly denied that its nuclear program is for anything other than peaceful purposes, and calls the IAEA report “politically motivated.”

The Iranian rampage has all the elements of us-versus-them that characterizes so much about international politics these days, but the Washington Post’s Thomas Erdbrink and Joby Warrick note that there are signs of dissension within the Iranian regime about whether the student raid on the British embassy was appropriate behavior. Students raiding the embassy pledged loyalty to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, the Post wrote, while a spokesman for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the rampage “unacceptable.”

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