Foreign Secretary statement to the House of Commons on British Embassy Tehran

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Foreign Secretary William Hague has made a statement following an attack on the British Embassy compound on 29 November.

“Shortly after three o’clock Tehran time yesterday approximately two hundred demonstrators overran the city-centre compound of our Embassy in Tehran. The majority of demonstrators were from a student Basij militia organisation. We should be clear from the outset that this is an organisation controlled by elements of the Iranian regime.

The demonstrators proceeded systematically to vandalise and loot the homes of staff located on the site and the Ambassador’s residence. They destroyed furniture, stole property including the personal possessions of our staff and set fire to the main Embassy office building.

Simultaneously, our second Embassy compound at Gulhaq in North Tehran also came under attack. Staff homes there were also attacked and looted. Our staff immediately evacuated the buildings affected and took refuge in safe areas of the compound.

It was not until yesterday evening later that we received confirmation that the Iranian diplomatic police had belatedly assisted at both compounds and that all our staff were accounted for.

I wish to pay a fulsome tribute to our Ambassador and his staff who throughout these hours of danger behaved with the utmost calm and professionalism and followed well-developed contingency plans. The Prime Minister and I have spoken to him several times in the last 24 hours and passed on our thanks to the UK-based and locally-engaged members of his team.

It will be obvious to the whole House and the whole world that these events are a grave violation of the Vienna Convention which states that a host state is required to protect the premises of a diplomatic mission against any intrusion, damage or disturbance. This is a breach of international responsibilities of which any nation should be ashamed.

It is true that relations between Britain and Iran are difficult, as they are to varying degrees between Iran and many other nations. We publicly differ with Iran over its nuclear programme, and on human rights, and we make no secret of our views. We have been foremost among those nations arguing for peaceful legitimate pressure to be intensified on Iran in the light of the IAEA’s “deep and increasing concern” about the Iranian nuclear program, including its “possible military dimensions.”

But we should be absolutely clear that no difficulty in relations can ever excuse in any way or under any circumstances the failure to protect diplomatic staff and diplomatic premises. Iran is a country where Opposition leaders are under house arrest, more than 500 people have been executed so far this year and where genuine protest is ruthlessly stamped on. The idea that the Iranian authorities could not have protected our Embassy or that this assault could have taken place without some degree of regime consent is fanciful.

Yesterday I called the Iranian Foreign Minister to protest in the strongest terms about these events and to demand immediate steps to ensure the safety of our staff and of both Embassy compounds. He said that he was sorry for what had happened and that action would be taken in response. The Iranian Charge d’Affaires in London was summoned to the Foreign Office to reinforce these messages.

COBR met yesterday afternoon and again this morning with the Prime Minister in the Chair.

The UN Security Council issued a Statement condemning the attack on our Embassy in the strongest terms and calling on the Iranian authorities to “protect diplomatic and consular property and personnel”.

I am grateful for the strong statements of concern and support from the United States, the European Union, Germany, Poland, Russia, China and many other nations.

I particularly wish to thank France for the robust support they have given us in every way, and for the practical assistance and accommodation that they have provided to our staff in Tehran.

Across Europe Iranian Ambassadors have been summoned to receive strong protests. In the words of the Foreign Minister of Austria: “with the attack on the British Embassy, Iran is now on the verge of placing itself completely outside of the framework of international law. If Iran thinks it can undermine European solidarity through such actions, it is wrong. Officials in Tehran are called upon to implement their legal commitments and protect diplomatic facilities, with no ifs or buts”.

I am grateful to our other friends in the region itself, particularly the United Arab Emirates for their practical help. I am also grateful to the Foreign Minister of Turkey for his prompt and helpful intervention in these matters last night.

The safety of our staff and of other British nationals in Iran is our highest priority.

We have now closed the British Embassy in Tehran. We have decided to evacuate all our staff and as of the last few minutes all our UK-based staff have now left Iran.

We will work with friendly countries to ensure that residual British interests are protected and that urgent consular assistance is available to British nationals. We advise against all but essential travel to Iran. At present there are no indications that British nationals outside the Embassy are being targeted in any way. British nationals requiring urgent consular assistance will receive help from other EU missions in Tehran.

But clearly that cannot be the end of the matter.

The Iranian Charge in London is being informed now that we require the immediate closure of the Iranian Embassy in London and that all Iranian diplomatic staff must leave the United Kingdom within the next 48 hours.

If any country makes it impossible for us to operate on their soil they cannot expect to have a functioning Embassy here.

This does not amount to the severing of diplomatic relations in their entirety. It is action that reduces our relations with Iran to the lowest level consistent with the maintenance of diplomatic relations.

The House will understand that it remains desirable for British representatives to be in contact with Iranian representatives, for instance as part of any negotiations about their nuclear programme or to discuss human rights. But it does mean that both Embassies will be closed.

We wish to make absolutely clear to Iran and to any other nation that such action against our Embassies and such a flagrant breach of international responsibilities is totally unacceptable to the United Kingdom.

Later today and tomorrow I will attend the meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels when we will discuss these events and further action which needs to be taken in the light of Iran’s continued pursuit of a nuclear weapons programme.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a leading member of the EU we are proud of the role our country plays in maintaining international peace and security and standing up for human rights all over the world. If the Iranian Government thinks we will be diverted from these responsibilities by the intimidation of our Embassy staff they will be making a serious mistake.”