London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iranians have welcomed the news that Britain is set to re-open its embassy in Tehran in the coming months after a hiatus of more than two and a half years.
The move underscores the diplomatic breakthrough between the West and Iran, as both sides scramble to deal with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) advance in neighboring Iraq.
Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, said on Tuesday: “Iran is an important country in a volatile region, and maintaining Embassies around the world, even under difficult conditions, is a central pillar of the UK’s global diplomatic approach.”
“I have . . . now decided the circumstances are right to reopen our embassy in Tehran,” he added.
Prominent Iranian reformist and former MP Darioush Qanbari hailed the decision, highlighting the Rouhani administration’s role.
“The reopening of the Britain Embassy in Tehran heralds relative improvement in relations between the two countries. Following the events that happened at the British Embassy in Tehran, relations between the two countries were cut and even consular services were cancelled. That caused many problems for the two countries. But the reopening of the British Embassy is the result of the Rouhani administration’s diplomatic behavior, which has brought about a positive atmosphere in the past year, and one can say that the reopening of the embassy means the opening of a new chapter in Iran–Britain relations,” Qanbari, who is a member of the Democracy Party, told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“The positive atmosphere created following the election of Rouhani changed the West’s approach towards Iran,” he said, adding that “hardliners who caused the closure of the British embassy are unlikely to be willing to do so again.”
The UK closed its embassy in Tehran in late 2011 after Iranian protesters stormed the embassy, taking down the British flag and replacing it with an Iranian one.
“Although they continue to raise their demands in their political circles and through their media outlets, they will no longer be able to do that. The government will also become active in securing diplomatic missions and will make serious efforts to that effect,” Qanbari added.
Elaheh Koulaei, professor of political science at Tehran’s University and former reformist MP, affirmed that the re-opening of the embassy comes as part of a gradual fence-mending exercise by both sides.
“Given the background of this issue, which happened under the former president [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] and the attack on the British Embassy, a gradual reopening of the British embassy was not unpredictable and unexpected,” Koulaei told Asharq Al-Awsat.
She affirmed that the “political willpower” of the Iranian and British governments for repairing relations at a time when the region is passing through a difficult phase will serve the interests of people in both countries, geopolitical concerns aside.
“Therefore, given these necessities, even gradual moves would facilitate improvement of ties within the framework of international law,” Koualei said.