UK reopens its embassy in Iran as relations warm – CNN

(CNN)Nearly four years after protesters stormed the UK Embassy in Iran, triggering a drastic breakdown in relations, Britain is restoring its diplomatic presence in Tehran.

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said he was “delighted” to be in the Iranian capital for the reopening of the embassy, in what is the first British ministerial visit to Iran in more than a decade.

Iran also reopened its embassy in London on Sunday in a coordinated move that reflects improved ties between the two nations.

The move comes a few weeks after Iran struck a deal on its nuclear program with six world powers, although plans for the reopening were announced by Britain last summer.

“Today’s ceremony marks the end of one long journey, and the start of a new, and, I believe, exciting one,” Hammond said in Tehran, according to a Foreign Office news release.

He described the embassy and its compound as a special place, saying it had “witnessed great moments in the history of both Iran and Britain.”

    While the attack in 2011 was a “low point,” Hammond said, the two countries’ relationship has steadily improved since Hassan Rouhani became president in 2013. Rouhani’s election is widely seen as having launched a more positive tone in Iran’s interactions with the West.

    “Last month’s historic nuclear agreement was another milestone, and showed the power of diplomacy, conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect, to solve shared challenges,” Hammond said.

    “Reopening the embassy is the logical next step, to build confidence and trust between two great nations.”

    Common challenges

    In his speech, Hammond stressed the importance of Iran’s role within the wider Middle East.

    “Iran is, and will remain, an important country in a strategically important but volatile region. Maintaining dialogue around the world, even under difficult conditions, is critical,” he said.

    “Over the coming months, we will work to ensure that the nuclear agreement is a success, including by making sure that it is fully implemented by all sides, and through this embassy’s efforts we will support British trade and investment, once sanctions are lifted. That will bring benefits for Britain and the Iranian people.”

    The two countries must tackle common challenges together, he said, including terrorism, regional stability, the spread of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the illegal drug trade and migration.

    “We will not always agree. But as confidence and trust grows there should be no limit to what over time we can achieve together and no limit to our ability to discuss these issues together.”

    Protest sparked by sanctions

    Hammond was joined for the opening ceremony by the new UK charge d’affaires, Ajay Sharma, and representatives of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and wider diplomatic community, the UK Foreign Office said.

    The embassy in Tehran will operate with a small staff and offer a limited range of consular services at first, Hammond said. But an agreement on upgrading to full ambassador status is expected in the coming months, along with an increase in services.

    A small trade delegation accompanied Hammond to Tehran.

    The assault by student protesters on the UK Embassy and a separate diplomatic compound in Tehran in November 2011 prompted outrage and led Britain to close the embassy’s doors and withdraw all its staff from Iran.

    Britain also closed the Iranian Embassy in London and ordered all Iranian diplomats to leave.

    The protest in Tehran was sparked by anger at UK sanctions imposed against Iranian institutions over the nation’s nuclear program. The embassy buildings should have been guarded by Iranian security officers.

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