Britain closes doors of embassy in Tehran

It was a significant crossing of paths. Arms upraised in defiance and shouting "long live Khomeini," two dark-bearded young men in shirtsleeves were hurried aboard an Iran Air Boeing 707 at London's Heathrow Airport Sept. 9. They were the first Iranian students to be deported by British authorities following a demonstration Aug. 4 outside the American Embassy here.

Forty-five minutes earlier, amid handshakes and kisses, all but one of the British diplomats and their wives remaining in Tehran had touched down at the same airport -- reluctantly brought home as Britain finally closed down its embassy in Iran's capital.

For many here, the surprise is that the embassy in Iran had lasted this long. Since Aug. 4, when British police arrested 72 Iranian students, the thinly-staffed embassy in Tehran had been under increasing pressure.

The decision to recall four diplomats and move the fifth to the Swedish Embassy to represent British interests came after Iran's new prime minister, Mohammed Ali Rajai, angrily criticized British treatment of the students held in London.

Amid speculation that the 44 students so far recommended for deportation would return to Iran with inflammatory tales of torture in British jails, the Foreign Office considered the risk to its diplomats too great -- "the risk," as Foreign Office Minister Douglas Hurd put it, "of waking up one morning and finding that they too were hostages."

Diplomatic relations, however, have not been broken: Iran still maintains its embassy in London, and the British hope to be able to return to their once the deportation flap dies down.

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