UK withdraws diplomatic staff from Iran after attack

Iran has apologised for the attacks but Britain has warned Tehran of 'serious consequences'

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Britain is withdrawing some diplomats from Iran following the attack on its embassy in the capital, Tehran, on Tuesday, diplomatic sources say.

The Foreign Office said "some staff" were leaving "for their own safety", but gave no further details of the numbers involved.

Norway has said it has closed its embassy, citing security concerns.

Tuesday's attack followed Britain's decision to impose further sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.

It led to Iran's parliament voting to reduce diplomatic relations with the UK.

'Hasty'

Hundreds of protesters - whom Iran described as "students" - massed outside the embassy compound on Tuesday afternoon before scaling the walls and the gates, burning British flags and a car.

Analysis

For many, an incursion into a Western embassy in Tehran triggers memories of one event - the storming by Iranian students of the US embassy in 1979.

More than 50 US diplomats and staff were held for more than 400 days. The US and Iran have yet to overcome the legacy of this event - the two countries have not restored diplomatic relations.

The British government has warned that Iran will face serious consequences. What these consequences may be is not yet clear, but Britain will want to act alongside its partners in the EU.

In April 1997, all EU countries withdrew their ambassadors for seven months because Iranian intelligence agents had been found guilty of murdering four Iranian Kurds in Germany.

Another UK diplomatic compound in northern Tehran, known locally as Qolhak Garden, was also overrun and damaged.

Iran said it regretted the incident, which it described as "unacceptable behaviour by a small number of protesters".

According to AFP news agency, a first group of embassy staff are flying out to Dubai.

In a statement on Wednesday, the British Foreign Office said Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague had "made clear that ensuring the safety of our staff and their families is our immediate priority".

"In the light of yesterday's events and to ensure their ongoing safety, some staff are leaving Tehran," it said.

Mr Cameron has warned of "serious consequences", while the US, EU and UN Security Council also condemned the attack.

Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani has described the UN Security Council's condemnation as "hasty", according to state television.

"The hasty move in the Security Council in condemning the students' actions was done to cover up previous crimes of America and Britain while the police did all they could to keep the peace," Mr Larijani was quoted as saying.

Norway decided to shut its Tehran embassy due to "security concerns" after the attack on the British embassy, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hilde Steinfeld said.

But it is not evacuating its staff from Iran, she said.

Downgraded relations

The attack came a week after the US, Canada and the UK announced new sanctions against the Islamist state, including measures to restrict the activities of the Iranian central bank.

For its part, the UK said it would sever all financial ties with Iran - the first time Britain has cut off all banking relations with another state.

The move came after a new report by the UN's nuclear watchdog (IAEA), which said Iran had carried out tests "relevant to the development of a nuclear device".

Iran denies the accusations, saying its nuclear progamme is solely for civilian purposes.

On Sunday, Iran's parliament voted by a large majority to downgrade diplomatic relations with the UK in response to the recent action.

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