Britain was evacuating all its diplomatic staff from Iran yesterday, a day after protesters stormed its embassy in Tehran in scenes that prompted international outrage.
Norway said it had temporarily closed its embassy, but its diplomats continued to work from elsewhere in Tehran. Other European missions were evaluating the situation.
Britain warned that “serious consequences” would follow Tuesday’s attacks on its two diplomatic compounds in the Iranian capital, one of which contained its embassy.
The protesters rampaged for hours through the properties, tearing down the British flag, smashing windows, trashing offices, setting documents alight and briefly blocking the movements of six British diplomats.
The protesters had been taking part in demonstrations in front of the British compounds with the approval of authorities, to reflect official anger at Britain’s announcement last week that it was cutting all relations with Iran’s financial sector.
Britain’s step was part of new sanctions coordinated with the US and Canada to pile pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear activities, which Western governments suspect is cover for a drive for a weapons capability.
The attacks were the worst assaults against a diplomatic mission in Tehran since the 1979 taking of the US embassy by Islamist students, who held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days — an act that resulted in the rupture of US-Iran diplomatic ties.
No British diplomats were hurt in Tuesday’s incursions, but staff had to pull back to secure areas as the protesters went on their rampage.
A British Foreign Office spokesman said the decision to withdraw “some” British staff from Iran was “to ensure their ongoing safety.”
The spokesman did not specify how many were leaving nor whether the British embassy would be closed.
“We’ll make any announcement about our embassy and staffing levels at the appropriate time,” he said.
European diplomats in Tehran said, however, that all British diplomats were being evacuated. One said a first group had been taken to Tehran’s airport for a flight to Dubai.
British, French, German schools — all located in one of the British compounds attacked — were closed until further notice, as a precaution, diplomats said.
International condemnation of the embassy assault was swift and broad.
The UN Security Council issued a statement slamming Iran, although it avoided mention of any repercussions.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a separate statement he was “shocked and outraged to hear of the incident in Tehran in which demonstrators entered the British embassy, briefly abducted embassy staff and damaged property.”
US President Barack Obama said the storming of the embassy was “not acceptable” and that “all of us are deeply disturbed.”
Even Russia — Iran’s closest major ally — condemned the incursions as “unacceptable.”
Iran’s reaction was a mix of contrition and defiance.
The foreign ministry expressed “regret” over the incident and deputy police chief Ahmad Reza Radan was quoted by state news agency IRNA as saying a number of protesters had been arrested and others were being sought.
However, Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani said the protesters had been “angered by the British government’s behavior” and the “decades of domineering moves by the British in Iran.”
The Security Council’s condemnation was “hasty,” he told lawmakers, according to state television.