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Terrorism & Security

Britain shuts down its embassy in Iran

Britain has withdrawn all its diplomats after yesterday's attack on its embassy, and ordered all Iranian diplomats out of Iran within 48 hours.

By Staff writer / November 30, 2011

Iranian protesters break the windows of a British Embassy building, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday.

Vahid Salemi/AP

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Britain has closed its embassy in Iran and withdrawn all of its diplomats, insisting that Iran follow suit by closing its London embassy immediately and withdrawing its diplomats in the next 48 hours.

The diplomatic break follows an attack on the British embassy in Tehran yesterday that evolved from protests calling for the expulsion of the British ambassador to Iran – a demand made this weekend by Iran's parliament.

The BBC reports that Foreign Secretary William Hague said that there was "some degree of regime consent" in the attacks on the embassy and another British diplomatic compound in Tehran. 

"If any country makes it impossible for us to operate on their soil they cannot expect to have a functioning embassy here," Mr. Hague said. He also said that relations between Britain and Iran are at their lowest level yet, but that ties have not yet been totally severed. 

British Prime Minister David Cameron called the attack on the embassy "outrageous and indefensible" and said it was a "disgrace" that the Iranian government did not protect the British staff and property, CNN reports.

"The Iranian government must recognize that there will be serious consequences for failing to protect our staff," Mr. Cameron said. "We will consider what these measures should be in the coming days."

The protest stemmed from a vote in the Iranian parliament Sunday to expel the ambassador and downgrade relations with Britain in response to Britain's decision last week to cut financial ties with Iran, blocking the country's access to the British banking sector, according to CNN.

The government asserts that the protests evolved from student-organized rallies. But it's not clear if students led the protests or if hard-line forces like the paramilitary corps run by the Revolutionary Guard are responsible, reports the Associated Press. Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran's parliament, said the anger was a result of "several decades of domination-seeking behavior of Britain." He also said the United Nations Security Council's condemnation of the attack was "hasty."

Tuesday's attack has prompted comparisons to the 1979 attack on the US embassy in Tehran, which was also conducted by students. The Associated Press writes:

The attackers ripped down the Union Jack, torched an embassy vehicle and tossed looted documents before riot police eventually cleared the areas. "Death to England!" some cried outside the compound in the first significant assault of a foreign diplomatic area in Iran in years.

Chants called for the closure of the embassy and called it a "spy den" — the same phrase used after militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and held 52 hostages for 444 days. In the early moments of that siege, protesters tossed out papers from the compound and pulled down the U.S. flag. Washington and Tehran have had no diplomatic relations since then.

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