The U.K. will evacuate some of its diplomatic staff from Iran after its embassy in Tehran was stormed by protesters yesterday, chanting “death to the U.K.” and burning its flag.
The incursion, which came a week after the U.S. and Britain imposed additional sanctions due to Iran’s nuclear program, lasted less than two hours before police moved in, according to the Associated Press. Detained protesters will be brought before judiciary authorities, the state-run Mehr news said, citing Tehran’s police chief, Hossein Sajedinia.
The U.S., which says Iran provides weapons, training and money to Hamas and Hezbollah, among other Middle East militant groups, is leading an international effort to tighten an economic noose on the country. Iran, meantime, is standing firm with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this month saying he won’t withdraw “an iota” from the atomic program.
“The Iranian government must recognize that there will be serious consequences for failing to protect our staff,” U.K. Prime Minster David Cameron said in a statement.
Cameron, who called the event “outrageous and indefensible,” said all personnel have been accounted for. Earlier, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said he spoke to Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi “to protest in the strongest terms.” Hague said his Iranian counterpart said he was “sorry” for what happened.
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The Guardian Council, Iran’s highest legislative body, on Nov. 28 endorsed parliament’s move to downgrade diplomatic ties with Britain, including the expulsion of its ambassador, after the U.K. expanded its sanctions last week.
The most recent measures target Iran’s oil -- its major source of income, with $80 billion in annual revenue from its daily output of about 3.5 million barrels, according to Iranian official figures and International Energy Agency estimates. That makes it the second-largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, after Saudi Arabia.
The protest took place on the first anniversary of the killing in Tehran of Majid Shahriari, a nuclear scientist, for which Iran has blamed foreign intelligence services, including the U.K.’s. State media said the numbers involved at the embassy were in the hundreds.
The U.S. and allies including the U.K. have said Iran is seeking to develop atomic weapons under the cover of a nuclear program. Iranian officials say the work is purely civilian and is needed for the development of nuclear power.
European Union foreign ministers are due to meet Dec. 1 to discuss additional measures against Iran, EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said Nov. 23.
The protesters’ action is “all part of regime posturing, but regime posturing with a harder edge,” said Scott Lucas, an Iran expert at the University of Birmingham in England, noting that they carried photographs of Shahriari. “It was all stage-managed; they were allowed to go in and cause a ruckus and then they were cleared out.”
“It looks like they went a bit off-script when they did not leave and, having been shooed out by the police, twice returned,” Lucas said.
Oil fell from the highest price in two weeks on signs of rising U.S. stockpiles. Crude for January delivery slid as much as 75 cents to $99.04 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile. The contract yesterday advanced 1.6 percent to $99.79, the highest close since Nov. 16.
Oil has gained 6.8 percent this month amid concern the sanctions may cut supplies from Iran.
At the embassy compound, six workers were freed after being surrounded by protesters, state-run Fars news said. Embassy staff left through a back door to escape the demonstrators, who replaced the U.K. flag with an Iranian one, Mehr said.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the actions of a “small” number of protesters were “regrettable,” Mehr reported.
In Washington, President Barack Obama called on Iran to ‘hold those who are responsible to task.”
“For rioters essentially to be able to overrun the embassy and set it on fire is an indication that the Iranian government is not taking its international obligations seriously,” he said to reporters in the Oval Office.
The protesters who entered the embassy property want a “complete halt of relations between Iran and the U.K,” they said in a statement carried by Fars.
After the 1979 revolution that ousted pro-western Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and brought Shiite Muslim clerics to power, students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days, leading the U.S. to sever ties. The revolt in Iran sent the price of Saudi Arabia’s Arab light crude to about $34 a barrel at the end of 1980 from $14 two years earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Lucas cautioned against drawing parallels between the storming of the U.S. Embassy and yesterday’s incident.
“Recognize this for the theatrics that it is,” he said. “This is the act of a defensive regime, not one that is feeling confident.”