British Embassy in Iran Seized

As Iranian students storm the British embassies in Tehran, historical comparisons are made to 1979 (the seizure of the US embassy there) and to 1980 (when the Iran embassy in London was seized by Iraqi terrorists and rescued by SAS). IP takes a longer view.

Hatred of Britain in Iran has deep roots. Ever since William Knox D’Arcy was granted a concession by the Shah of Persia to search for oil in 1901, the Persians resented the fact that oil profits went only into the coffers of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the mighty conglomerate that counted among its paid lobbyists young Winston Churchill.

In April 1951, the Majlis (parliament) of Iran under the nationalist Mohammed Mossadeq nationalized the oil industry in Iran, and kicked out the then Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC). Britain’s response was to stage a coup against Mossadeq, and that it finally achieved with the help of the CIA in August 1953.

The AIOC returned to Iran, as a plurality owner (40%) of a new international consortium involving five American companies (40%), Royal Dutch Shell and Compagnie Française des Pétroles (now Total) (20%). The AIOC became the British Petroleum in 1954 when the above picture was taken. The companies continued to operate in Iran until 1979, when the new Islamic regime again nationalized the oil industry without compensation, bringing to an end the BP’s 70-year presence in Iran.

Shortly after the U.S. embassy was seized, and its own embassy was occupied, Britain closed its embassy in Tehran in 1980 — the beginning of the eight-year diplomatic hiatus. In 1986, the relations hit nadir as Iran pointedly nominated Hussein Malouk, who took part in in the 1979 student takeover of the U.S. embassy as Iranian chargé d’affaires in London. HMG refused to accept Mr. Malouk. In 1989, the diplomatic relations resumed briefly before Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa on Anglo-Indian author Salman Rushdie. In the 2000s, the terse diplomatic dance continued. In 2004 and 2007, the Islamic Republic briefly arrested groups of British soldiers for straying into its waters from Iraq. Salman Rushdie’s knighthood and the Green Revolution further exacerbated the relations.

But, no matter how unsalvageable that relationship is, this blog has always viewed the diplomatic immunity as sacrosanct and the host country as the power responsible for protection, security and well-being of envoys and diplomats. By turning the blind eye to this raid, and by tacitly condoning and perhaps even encouraging actions of this angry mob, the Islamic Republic has proven itself to be an unreliable, duplicitous, and crass entity.

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