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Britain to Reopen Embassy in Iran, Nearly 4 Years After It Was Ransacked

LONDON — In a significant indication of warming Western relations with Iran after a deal limiting its nuclear program, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond will reopen Britain’s embassy in Tehran, probably on Sunday, British officials said Thursday.

Four years ago, in November 2011, the ambassador’s residence there was ransacked and the British flag burned by protesters angry about the economic sanctions imposed on Iran in response to its nuclear program and its flouting of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Mr. Hammond is expected to travel to Iran this weekend with a small delegation of businesspeople, including representatives from Royal Dutch Shell, a British official said.

European, Russian and Chinese companies are among those in hot competition to renew business ties with Iran. This fever tends to support one of the arguments the Obama administration has been using to seek backing for the deal among American lawmakers: that Security Council unity on maintaining sanctions against Iran would quickly crumble even if Congress voted the deal down.

Interactive Feature | The Iran Deal in 200 Words A short overview of important highlights from the Iran nuclear deal. A short overview of important highlights from the Iran nuclear deal.

The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, visited Tehran at the end of July and said he expected up to 100 French businesspeople to visit Iran in September. A German business delegation went in July, and the Italian foreign minister has also gone.

After years of negotiations with Iran, a deal was finally struck in July between Iran and the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany. In general, the deal limits Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities for about 10 years, with requirements for extensive supervision by the International Atomic Energy Agency, in return for lifting most economic sanctions on Iran. Some Arab countries in the Middle East view it skeptically, and Israel opposes it outright.

Some sanctions, which relate to Iran’s support for terrorist groups, will not be lifted. Others may be lifted but have not been yet, especially those imposed by Congress, which is to vote on the deal. Even if Congress passes a resolution of disapproval, however, it will struggle to overcome a veto from President Obama.

Mr. Hammond’s visit to Iran will be the first by a British foreign secretary in nearly 12 years. He will have a series of meetings with high-ranking Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani and Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. With the business delegation, Mr. Hammond is expected to meet with the Iranian ministers of industries and business, petroleum and transport.

Graphic | Who Got What They Wanted in the Iran Nuclear Deal Here is a look at what Iran and the United States wanted, and what they got. Here is a look at what Iran and the United States wanted, and what they got.

The reopened British Embassy will be staffed initially by a small number of diplomats led by Ajay Sharma, who has been nonresident chargé d’affaires since 2013. Before the storming of the embassy, Iran’s Parliament, the Majlis, had voted to downgrade bilateral relations from ambassadorial to chargé d’affaires, the rung below. Approval from the Majlis is likely to be needed to restore ambassadorial ties.

The restoration of full ties has been delayed by Britain’s inability to import enough advanced equipment, especially for communications, to replace what was lost when it shut the embassy four years ago. Much of that equipment was destroyed by the diplomats who were leaving.

There has also been a dispute about the repatriation of Iranian citizens in Britain who overstayed their visas, since Iranian law forbids the acceptance of Iranians deported by foreign governments against their will.

But Britain has clearly decided to reopen the embassy before it is fully re-equipped, and officials suggest that some compromise has been found on the repatriation issue that will allow the embassy to issue visas to Iranians wishing to visit Britain.

There is little doubt that the competition for Iran’s market, especially in energy, gave extra impetus to the British effort to resolve the remaining issues standing in the way.

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(via NY Times)