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UK hails 'new phase' of ties with Iran

August 23, 2015

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said the ties between the UK and Iran have entered a new phase as he reopened his country's embassy in Tehran. This follows an agreement with Iran to curb its nuclear program.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond (L) and non-resident charge d'affaires Ajay Sharma watch as the Union flag is raised at the British Embassy in Tehran, Iran, August 23, 2015 (Photo: REUTERS/Darren Staples TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Image: Reuters/D. Staples

Hammond arrived in the Iranian capital on Sunday to attend the opening ceremony of the British Embassy and to hold talks with the officials of the Shiite state.

Britain severed diplomatic ties with Iran following an attack on its embassy in 2011. His trip to Iran was the first by a British foreign secretary since 2003.

"Four years on from an attack on the British Embassy, I am today re-opening it," Hammond said in a statement. "Today's ceremony marks the end of one phase in the relationship between our two countries and the start of a new one - one that I believe offers the promise of better," he added.

Iran simultaneously opened its embassy in London, confirmed the Iranian ISNA news agency.

"Our relationship has improved since 2011. President (Hasan) Rouhani's election and last month's nuclear agreement were important milestones. I believe that we have the potential to go much further," said Hammond.

Common threats

According to the foreign secretary, terrorism, regional stability and the threat of the Sunni militant group "Islamic State" in Syria and Iraq are among some of the challenges which Britain and Iran will be trying to overcome together.

The new British charge d'affaires, Ajay Sharma, was also present at the Sunday's ceremony, which was attended by representatives of the Iranian foreign ministry. Hammond was also accompanied by a small delegate of trade representatives who will discuss the possibility of economic cooperation with Iran following the nuclear deal.

Under the terms of the P5+1 deal, sanctions imposed by the European Union, the United Nations and the United States are to be gradually lifted in exchange for Iran agreeing on the long-term curbs, which are mean to prevent Tehran from developing the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond leaves a Royal Air Force airplane after arriving at Mehrabad Airport in Tehran, Iran August 23, 2015 (Photo: REUTERS/Darren Staples)
The trip marked the first time a British foreign secretary has visited Tehran since 2003Image: Reuters/D. Staples

While the United States and its Western allies have long suspected that Iran could be using its nuclear program as a cover to develop a nuclear bomb, Tehran has consistently insisted that the program is for peaceful purposes only.

Iran back on the world stage

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif welcomed the reopening of the British Embassy and said it proved his country's regional and global significance.

"The world has realized Iran's constructive role in the region and globe," Zarif was quoted as saying on Sunday. "Of course, we have differences with some European countries, but that can be negotiated through interaction, open eyes and a realistic approach," he added.

While the thaw in relations between Iran and the West has been hailed by most countries in the world, the US' Arab allies in the region and Israel are skeptical about it.

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State John Kerry visited the Middle East to assure the Arab nations that the Iran deal would not undermine their interests in the region.

shs/se (Reuters, AP, dpa)