Will Iran And UK Resume Diplomatic Relations?

In another context, it might simply seem like diplomatic business-as-usual. But in Tehran, with potential game-changing nuclear talks in the balance, visits by the Austrian Foreign Minister and a key official of the British Foreign Office are being viewed as further proof that Iran want to move toward rapprochement with the West.

In particular, the visit of Sir Simon Gass, a former ambassador to Iran and the director of political affairs at the British Foreign Office, prompted a wave of reactions from the Tehran press since the two countries currently don't have full diplomatic relations. Britain closed its Tehran embassy in November 2011 after a mob stormed the premises following Britain's support for tougher sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. The recent visit, however, was seen as a step towards the restoration of full diplomatic ties.

Marzieh Afkham, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said on April 29 that the visit showed that "Tehran and London are gradually progressing toward better ties," Iran's Mehr agency reported. An editorial that same day in the progressive daily newspaper Arman observed that, for historical reasons, ties between Iran and Britain were more "sensitive" than with other European countries. This implicitly referred to the British Empire's preponderant influence in Iran through the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly in the first half of the 20th century.

The editorial observed that the two states "must maintain their relations" given their respective importance in the region, while Britain should not expect to have "an active presence in the Middle East without relations with Tehran."

Tehran-based academic Ali Khorram was also quoted in Arman on April 30, saying that Britain was no longer the "unreal monster" Iranians had imagined — a vision that led to "misunderstandings" in past diplomatic relations. Like other former colonial powers, Britain's "challenge is to survive," Khorram wrote, and Iranians should consider the "interests and security" benefits that ties with Britain can create. Two of these benefits, Khorram said, are its technological influence and its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Meanwhile, Iran was continuing its collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) through technical inspections, following the deal signed in November 2013 that clarified its nuclear program. Behruz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, told the Iranian's Students' News Agency (ISNA) this week that inspectors had visited a "laser center" in the previous weeks, and were to visit a mine and a factory within the next days, the newspaper Jomhuri-e Eslami reported.

Kamalvandi said Iran would provide information on seven sites or areas required by the IAEA within the next two weeks, as part of the "second phase" of its cooperation with the Agency.

Ahmad Shayegan

photo of Iranian embassy in London (wikipedia)

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