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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.

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Far from being triumphant and confident, Iran’s regime appears to be showing signs of distress, the Post’s writers quote Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert, as saying.

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“Attacking the U.K. Embassy paints a picture of a regime that is deeply distressed and flustered,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an expert on Iranian politics at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Sadjadpour described the Basij militia members who stormed the compound as “government-controlled rent-a-mobs” who are at the beck and call of Iranian security forces.

Americans of a certain age will remember that Tehran students have made the raiding of embassies into a fine art form, and the raiding of a US embassy in 1979 and capturing more than 60 US diplomats. Some were released within weeks, but 52 were held hostage for 444 days. An arms-for-hostages deal, orchestrated by a soon-to-be radio talk-show host Col. Oliver North in the White House of President Ronald Reagan helped to end that escapade. But that 1979 embassy raid was by no means the first time an embassy mission had been defiled in Iran, notes Uri Freedman in today’s Foreign Policy. Iranian raids are, like, so 1829.

Tehran also witnessed what may be the earliest instance of an embassy assault (if an earlier example comes to mind, please share it with us). In January 1829, Alexander Griboyedov, a famous Russian playwright tasked with imposing a humiliating peace treaty on the Persians, was murdered along with nearly his entire staff when a furious mob stormed the Russian embassy in Tehran following a series of disputes between Griboyedov and the Shah.

Jon Lee Anderson, on the New Yorker magazine’s website, notes that a certain set of Iranians seem to regard Britain as an even greater enemy than they do the US. Part of this goes back to the Great Game, where Britain and Russia used Persia and Afghanistan as a chessboard to compete for control of Central Asia.

As Mr. Anderson writes:

To certain Britons, the enduring Iranian conspiracy theories about them are a source of some pride and quaint nostalgia, a reminder of a time in which Great Britain was central to world politics, rather than a receding bit player. For some Iranians, similarly, who look back to a long-ago time when their nation ruled over a great swath of Central Asia, the British are a convenient target for historical grievances, and Iran’s nuclear program is a means to restore their country to its rightful place amongst the world’s leading nations. But today’s scene was not just about those two nations: it was a new and poignant reminder of the limitations of international diplomacy in an increasingly polarized world in which rampaging mobs, for some countries, have effectively replaced foreign policy.

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