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British Embassy (Tehran)

Volume 536: debated on Wednesday 30 November 2011

With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about events in Tehran.

Shortly after 3 o’clock Tehran time yesterday, approximately 200 demonstrators overran the city-centre compound of our embassy in Tehran. The majority of demonstrators were from a student Basij militia organisation. We should be clear from the outset that that is an organisation controlled by elements of the Iranian regime.

The demonstrators proceeded systematically to vandalise and loot the homes of staff located on the site and the ambassador’s residence. They destroyed furniture, stole property, including the personal possessions of our staff, and set fire to the main embassy office building.

Simultaneously, our second embassy compound at Gulhaq in north Tehran also came under attack, and staff homes there were also attacked and looted. Our staff immediately evacuated the buildings affected and took refuge in safe areas of the compound. It was not until yesterday evening that we received confirmation that the Iranian diplomatic police had belatedly assisted at both compounds, and that all our staff were accounted for.

I wish to pay a fulsome tribute to our ambassador and his staff, who throughout those hours of danger behaved with the utmost calm and professionalism and followed well developed contingency plans. The Prime Minister and I have spoken to him several times in the past 24 hours and passed on our thanks to the UK-based and locally engaged members of his team.

It will be obvious to the whole House and the whole world that these events are a grave violation of the Vienna convention, which states that a host state is required to protect the premises of a diplomatic mission against any intrusion, damage or disturbance. This is a breach of international responsibilities of which any nation should be ashamed.

It is true, of course, that relations between Britain and Iran are difficult, as they are to varying degrees between Iran and many other nations. We publicly differ with Iran over its nuclear programme and on human rights, and we make no secret of our views. We have been foremost among those nations arguing for peaceful legitimate pressure to be intensified on Iran in the light of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s “deep and increasing concern” about the Iranian nuclear programme, including its “possible military dimensions”.

But we should be absolutely clear that no difficulty in relations can ever excuse in any way or under any circumstances the failure to protect diplomatic staff and diplomatic premises. Iran is a country where Opposition leaders are under house arrest, where more than 500 people have been executed so far this year and where genuine protest is ruthlessly stamped on. The idea that the Iranian authorities could not have protected our embassy, or that this assault could have taken place without some degree of regime consent, is fanciful.

Yesterday, I called the Iranian Foreign Minister to protest in the strongest terms about the events and to demand immediate steps to ensure the safety of our staff and of both embassy compounds. He said that he was sorry for what had happened and that action would be taken in response. The Iranian chargé d’affaires in London was summoned to the Foreign Office to reinforce those messages, and Cobra met yesterday afternoon and again this morning with the Prime Minister in the chair.

The UN Security Council issued a statement condemning the attack on our embassy in the strongest terms and calling on the Iranian authorities to

“protect diplomatic and consular property and personnel”.

I am grateful for the strong statements of concern and support from the United States, the European Union, Germany, Poland, Russia, China and many other nations. I particularly wish to thank France for the robust support that it has given us in every way, and for the practical assistance and accommodation that it has provided to our staff in Tehran.

Throughout Europe, Iranian ambassadors have been summoned to receive strong protests. In the words of the Foreign Minister of Austria:

“With the attack on the British Embassy, Iran is now on the verge of placing itself completely outside of the framework of international law. If Iran thinks it can undermine European solidarity through such actions, it is wrong.”

I am grateful to our other friends in the region itself, and particularly to the United Arab Emirates for its practical help. I am grateful also to the Foreign Minister of Turkey for his prompt and helpful intervention in these matters last night.

The safety of our staff and of other British nationals in Iran is our highest priority. We have now closed the British embassy in Tehran. We have decided to evacuate all our staff, and as of the last few minutes, the last of our UK-based staff has now left Iran.

We will work with friendly countries to ensure that residual British interests are protected and that urgent consular assistance is available to British nationals. We advise against all but essential travel to Iran. At present, there are no indications that British nationals outside the embassy are being targeted in any way. Those requiring urgent consular assistance will receive help from other EU missions in Tehran.

But that clearly cannot be the end of the matter, and the next few paragraphs of my statement are not in the written version being circulated to the House, because the timing of this announcement had to be consistent with the safety of our staff.

The Iranian chargé in London is being informed now that we require the immediate closure of the Iranian embassy in London, and that all Iranian diplomatic staff must leave the United Kingdom within the next 48 hours. If any country makes it impossible for us to operate on their soil, they cannot expect to have a functioning embassy here. This does not amount to the severing of diplomatic relations in their entirety. It is action that reduces our relations with Iran to the lowest level consistent with the maintenance of diplomatic relations.

The House will understand that it remains desirable for British representatives to be in contact with Iranian representatives—for instance, as part of any negotiations about their nuclear programme or to discuss human rights—but it does mean that both embassies will be closed. We wish to make it absolutely clear to Iran and to any other nation that such action against our embassies and such a flagrant breach of international responsibilities is totally unacceptable to the United Kingdom.

Later today and tomorrow I will attend the meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, when we will discuss these events and further action that needs to be taken in the light of Iran’s continued pursuit of a nuclear weapons programme.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a leading member of the European Union, we are proud of the role that our country plays in maintaining international peace and security and in standing up for human rights all over the world. If the Iranian Government think that we will be diverted from those responsibilities by the intimidation of our embassy staff, they will be making a serious mistake.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for allowing me advance sight of it. It is indeed right that we address the issues of the assault on the British embassy in Tehran along with other important business before the House today.

I, of course, begin by expressing my clear and unequivocal condemnation of the deplorable attacks that we witnessed yesterday in Tehran, and associate all Opposition Members with the words yesterday of the Foreign Secretary and of the Prime Minister on the issue.

Let me deal with the welfare of the UK diplomatic staff. I commend the British ambassador and his whole team on their handling of the situation and the unyielding professionalism and, indeed, bravery that they have shown at this extremely difficult time. Our thoughts are also with the staff and the families who were affected by yesterday’s assaults. Are appropriate steps being taken to safeguard locally engaged staff who have supported UK-based staff during the period in which the British embassy in Tehran has been operational?

With regard to responsibility for the assault, the Iranian Government clearly failed to take adequate measures to protect our embassy, our staff and our property. Their international responsibilities, including those under the Vienna convention, are well established. The demonstrations were co-ordinated, not coincidental, and the suggestion that the regime, or at least elements within it, were unaware of some of the actions stretches credulity. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s confirmation that he immediately summoned the Iranian chargé d’affaires to the Foreign Office yesterday and the condemnation issued by our colleagues in the European Union and the UN Security Council.

Let me turn to the context and consequences of yesterday’s events. The backdrop was the unequivocal International Atomic Energy Agency report published earlier this month, which made it clear that there is accumulating evidence for the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programme. In response to the report, the UK, along with Canada and the United States, sought to increase peaceful diplomatic pressure on Iran, and only last week the Chancellor announced the severing of all ties with Iranian banks, including the Central Bank of Iran. As a result of these measures, the Iranian Parliament approved a Bill three days ago requiring Iran and Britain to withdraw their ambassadors and downgrade the status of the two countries’ diplomatic ties.

That was the immediate context of yesterday’s assault, but what about the consequences? As we have just heard, British diplomats are thankfully on their way home and the embassy has been closed. The Foreign Secretary has just informed the House that, in response to the events, the Iranian chargé d’affaires has been told to leave the UK and Iran’s embassy in London will be closed forthwith. The safety and security of UK diplomatic staff and other UK nationals must be a paramount consideration, but can the Foreign Secretary set out how dialogue will be maintained in the light of these developments? If the effect of yesterday’s events is to extinguish dialogue—albeit that dialogue on human rights and the nuclear dossier is proving extremely difficult at present—the elements within the regime that seek conflict and confrontation would be strengthened. In the light of the diplomatic changes, what mechanisms for dialogue will remain open?

The Opposition agree that Britain’s national interest is best served by pursuing a twin-track approach to Iran and its nuclear ambitions, so will the Foreign Secretary be a little clearer when he responds on how the first part of that approach, the engagement strategy, will continue in the light of the downgrading of diplomatic relations? Does he agree that, notwithstanding yesterday’s truly deplorable assault on the embassy, a clear-eyed sense of Britain’s national interest would resist in the weeks ahead a descent into ever more bellicose rhetoric and instead seek to find new means of taking forward the difficult but necessary dialogue? Does he also agree that in that dialogue we must be clear that such deplorable assaults on our embassy will not and must not alter our determination to take forward the diplomatic work with others in the international community to ensure that Iran upholds its responsibilities and obligations under international law?

Finally, will the Foreign Secretary consider returning to the House in the weeks or months ahead to make a more wide-ranging statement on Iran in calmer times and the approach that the Government now intend to take, given not only the immediate events and their consequences, which he has rightly come to the House to address, but the stalled progress on the E3 plus 3 process and the growing anxiety about Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who has joined in the condemnation of these completely unacceptable acts and the commendation of our ambassador and his staff. He asked about the locally engaged staff. Other than security staff, locally engaged staff were not in the embassy compound yesterday because, in anticipation of the demonstrations, we had asked them not to come to work, so they were not involved in the violence and danger. We will, of course, look after them financially and have a continuing concern for their welfare, although it must be pointed out that, as former Foreign Secretaries will remember, our locally engaged staff in Tehran have unfortunately always been at some degree of risk because of previous unacceptable behaviour by the Iranian regime.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to remind us of the wider context of the IAEA report and the action the Chancellor announced last week to sever financial links between our financial institutions and those of Iran. He asked how dialogue is to be maintained. Clearly these events make that more difficult. We do not take such decisions at all lightly, but after the events we have come to the conclusion that no assurance the Iranian regime could deliver on the safety of our staff could be believed. We have an overriding duty of care for those staff.

It is still possible in other forums to pursue dialogue with Iran where appropriate and meaningful. We are part of the E3 plus 3 process—the six nations that wish to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear programme—as is the United States, which does not have an embassy in Tehran. We meet the Iranians at various multilateral forums and organisations. I met the Iranian Foreign Minister at the UN General Assembly earlier this year. As I have said, we are not advocating the severing of all diplomatic relations. It is important that dialogue about these issues can continue, but it is not possible to maintain an embassy under these circumstances and in the light of these threats and actions.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about bellicose rhetoric. Of course, that is something that comes from Iran, not the United Kingdom. We heard that on Sunday in the Iranian Parliament there were chants of, “Death to Britain”, and it is unimaginable that we would ever treat any country in that way in our deliberations here in the House of Commons. It is the bellicose rhetoric coming from Iran that should come to an end. I am of course open to making other statements to the House in future and more wide-ranging considerations of our future policy towards Iran.

I share the Foreign Secretary’s sense of outrage and welcome his statement and the steps he is taking. Iran is propping up the regime in Syria, undermining peace efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and supporting terrorism in a number of arenas around the world. Does he agree that there is only one language these people understand: the language of the firmest possible action? Yet does he agree that we must somehow maintain a degree of dialogue somewhere along the line?

My hon. Friend is right that there have been no rewards for anything other than firm dealings with Iran. Many efforts have been made to induce the Iranians into a more substantial dialogue than we have enjoyed in recent years. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), when Foreign Secretary, made valiant efforts to do so, to which we should pay tribute, but his efforts and those of other European Foreign Ministers have not been successful at any stage. It is important to respond firmly to such provocations and attacks, but to continue to seek meaningful negotiations on the nuclear programme, and that remains our position.

As co-chair of the all-party group on Iran, alongside the hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), and as a former Foreign Secretary who sought better relations with Iran, as the Foreign Secretary has kindly noted, and who went to Tehran five times in pursuit of that, I begin by entirely endorsing his praise for our brave and skilful diplomats and the outrage we all feel at the Iranian Government’s egregious breach of their obligations to protect all diplomatic embassies and posts and their palpable failure to do anything, which they could easily have done, to protect the embassy against the organised demonstration. I appreciate just how difficult it is to make such decisions when faced with them, rather than having just to comment on them, but when the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary were thinking about the decision to sever all relations, how far did the Foreign Secretary consider the irony of the fact that what he believes is justified is exactly what the hard-liners in the Majlis want? Given that we are not talking about a single Government, as the Americans often forget, but a system that is in turmoil, to what extent does he believe that we will now be able to strengthen those, even within the Ahmadinejad regime, who are seeking a better path than that of some of the hard-liners in the Majlis?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about our staff and how they have conducted themselves. He is right to draw attention to the difficulties and downsides of any way of proceeding in this situation. As a former Foreign Secretary, he will know that we must be able to be confident that we can look after our staff, and that assurances of host Governments can be believed. Sometimes our staff continue to operate in very difficult and dangerous circumstances. At the moment, Yemen is an example of that, but even there, where there have been two attempts on the life of our staff in the past 18 months, we do not suspect that parts of the regime there are implicated in attacks on our embassy. That makes life dramatically more difficult, and must be weighed heavily in any balance of the question.

We must also consider that the incident in Iran has happened in currently difficult diplomatic circumstances, but we cannot be confident that those circumstances will not deteriorate further over the next 12 months or so, so we must have regard to what might happen to our embassy in those circumstances. Having considered all those matters, the Prime Minister and I believe it is right to take this action, not to sever all relations, to put the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) right, because it is still possible to have diplomatic contact under what I have set out, but to close both embassies.

I join the Foreign Secretary in paying tribute to the locally engaged staff and our diplomatic staff, whom I last met at the embassy when I visited in 2008. They have had to endure three incursions into the embassy in the past four years, and this is the most serious and obviously threatening to British interests and property.

The E3 plus 3 works best when it works as one in negotiating with Iran, and withdrawal of our embassy leaves much of the day-to-day contact with the Iranian Government in the hands of the Chinese and Russian E3 plus 3 members. What confidence does the Foreign Secretary have that those two member states will play their full part in ensuring that negotiations with Iran come to a successful conclusion?

It is not solely the Russian and Chinese embassies that will be there, because the French and German embassies are still in Tehran, although both France and Germany are taking very strong diplomatic action in the light of these events. I will not make their announcements for them, but they are outraged by the events and will follow with their own strong diplomatic action. Those countries are still in Tehran, and are an important part of the E3 plus 3 process. Although we have differences with Russia and China, the process is by no means wholly in the hands of those countries.

I join the Foreign Secretary in his utter condemnation of yesterday’s attacks on the embassy and its staff. However, he will know that the Iranian regime loves to trade shows of machismo and enjoys tit for tat, and that parts of it glory in Iran’s isolation. In that context, the presence of the British embassy in Tehran for much of the past 30 years has been wholly good, in contrast with the American position. This is a sad day for British diplomacy.

I have two questions for the Foreign Secretary. First, what will he do to ensure that this is not seen as a victory for those in the regime who would seek isolation—the so-called hard-liners? Secondly, what will he do to ensure that this series of announcements does not become part of the unwelcome drum beat of war that started in the last six weeks in respect of the Iranian nuclear programme?

The international condemnation of Iran, the strong expressions of support for our staff, and the grave concern for what has happened have come from Russia and China, as well as from western nations, our European allies and the United States. Anyone in Tehran who thought they had won a victory in Iran in the light of the world-wide condemnation of the events would be very blinkered. We have been clear, as was the right hon. Gentleman when he was Foreign Secretary, that we are not advocating military action against Iran. We are calling for peaceful, legitimate pressure. It is as part of that peaceful, legitimate pressure that Iran has taken action that breaches international conventions, specifically the Vienna convention.

As I said to the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), we must weigh heavily those considerations and the disadvantages of embassies being closed, but the Government must make a decision, and our decision is that we cannot keep our staff safe in Iran, and its actions are so unacceptable that we have to take a very firm line. On the balance of such matters, we decided to take the action that we have.

For the Liberal Democrats, I join the condemnation of yesterday’s events and support the Foreign Secretary’s response. I also express our relief that our staff are now safe, and our admiration for their courage and professionalism.

The Foreign Secretary listed many nations that had expressed concern and support, and included Russia and China. In the international context, does he regard that as a positive development, and perhaps the beginning of the foundation of a more consistent international approach to the regime in Tehran?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for all his remarks. His question about whether there is a new development in the international handling of wider issues in Iran is interesting. It is too early to say yes, but I think the events will help to open the eyes of many people throughout the world to the nature and behaviour of the Iranian regime. If it has so little regard for such well established international conventions as the protection of diplomatic premises, one can imagine that it does not have much regard for other international agreements either.

I join others in welcoming the Foreign Secretary’s action. He will know that about 70,000 Iranians live in the United Kingdom. What will be the practical consequences of his decisions? Where will entry clearance operations in Tehran move to now that the embassy is closed? Where will British Iranians who want to visit relatives in Iran make their applications for visas?

It will of course be more difficult for them, because we will not have a visa section operating in Tehran. Iranian citizens can still obtain visas to come to the United Kingdom, but they will have to obtain them through other hubs of our diplomatic network, specifically Abu Dhabi, or other hubs of the visa network. We will ask another country to act on our behalf in Iran and to look after our interests there, and I imagine that the Iranians will ask a third country to do the same here in London and to provide whatever assistance is required for Iranian citizens here in the UK.

Is it not the case that President Ahmadinejad could do well to learn from Persian history, in particular King Cyrus, who created the first charter on human rights, which can be seen in the foyer of the United Nations building? He taught all his people the importance of respecting the rights not only of Iranian or Persian citizens but of foreigners.

Yes. My hon. Friend makes a pertinent historical point. The King in question was rather better at sticking to his agreements than the current Government of Iran.

I have just been reminded that the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) is a learned and well-read fellow.

I do not know that anyone is as learned or well read as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).

The Foreign Secretary referred to bellicose words. What counts as bellicose words in Iran is rather different from what counts as bellicose words from a Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons. I worry about the tone that the right hon. Gentleman has adopted today. I noted that on the radio a couple of weeks ago he refused to rule out military intervention. Will he do so today?

No. I always say that all options remain on the table, but I always make it clear, as did the previous Government, that we are not advocating military action against Iran. Our position is the same as that of the previous British Government—the hon. Gentleman was a Foreign Office Minister in that Government—and the same as that of France, Germany and the United States. It is a united international position, and we continue to adhere to the one to which he subscribed.

The Foreign Secretary is absolutely right to condemn the sacking of our embassy, which can only serve to inflame tensions generally. Given recent remarks by Israel, and the fact that there was no smoking gun from the recent International Atomic Energy Agency report, will he do what he can to restrain Israel from conducting any form of military strike, which would be catastrophic for the region? If Iran has set its mind on nuclear weapons, it will not be scared away, and if it has not, a military strike will encourage it.

Clearly, from what I have said, we are not advocating a military strike by anybody. I have often said in the past that although the possession of nuclear weapons by Iran would be a calamity for the world, it is quite possible that military action against Iran would be calamitous. I absolutely stand by that.

I do not think that my hon. Friend should dismiss so lightly the IAEA report, which referred to the agency’s serious concerns regarding credible evidence about the military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear programme. My hon. Friend should weigh that a little more heavily.

I am slightly troubled by some of the triumphant cheering that we heard behind the Foreign Secretary when he announced the closure of the embassy. Government Members would do well to show caution about the path they seem so eager to head down.

The Foreign Secretary has briefly mentioned both Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. May I press him to say a little more about the Government’s dialogue with other Governments in the region, and particularly with the Gulf Co-operation Council?

We are in constant touch with those nations, of course. I spoke to Turkey’s Foreign Minister twice last night. He spoke, as I did, to the Iranian Foreign Minister, expressing Turkey’s outrage about these events and asking for the protection of our diplomatic staff. We are in constant diplomatic touch with the Gulf states, which also share our outrage about what has happened. As I mentioned in my statement, the United Arab Emirates has been able to give us practical help in the evacuation of our staff. A large number of the flights out of Tehran go to the UAE, so we have been in close touch with it about that.

May I explain to my right hon. Friend why I cheered during his statement? It was because he is absolutely right to show strength and resolution rather than surrender in the face of the provocation by the Iranian regime. May I also give him the fullest support for refusing to rule out the military option? There have been 10 years—more than a decade—of best intentions and positive diplomacy as we have tried to win the arguments with the Iranians. If this incident does not remove the rose-tinted spectacles from our eyes, nothing will.

All options, of course, are kept on the table. However, I stress, as I have to other hon. Members, that we are not calling for military action. But I am grateful to my hon. Friend: in the House of Commons, we show approval with cheers, grunts or movements of the head, and all are acceptable on this occasion.

All Members would do well to remember the deplorable nature of this attack on British embassy property and staff. It demanded an appropriate response and I commend the Foreign Secretary for his swift, decisive and entirely appropriate response on this occasion. In relation to the twin-track approach that he has set out, what further practical steps—what further measures in addition to the sanctions already announced—can be taken to increase peaceful and legitimate pressure on Iran?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks and support for the action that we have taken. At the European Foreign Affairs Council over the next 24 hours, we will be discussing further actions that can be taken—peaceful, legitimate pressure, as he says. I believe that we will agree on additional sanctions. I do not want to say now what those are going to be. I do not want to prejudge the deliberations with my European colleagues in Brussels, but the right hon. Gentleman can be confident that further measures are on their way.

It is always sad when the Union Jack has to be pulled down in any country, because it is such a potent symbol for those of us who have been in hostile countries and for nationals in those countries. However, I rather wonder whether our interests may be served if the European Union has set up its embassy in Iran; it might have something useful to do if it has. It could look after our interests.

The European Union has been very helpful. Baroness Ashton, the High Representative, issued a very strong and prompt statement about the issue and of course we will work with EU representatives on this matter. We have been fortunate in having such robust support from France, Germany and many other of the member states of the European Union.

This is the second outrage against this country by the Iranians; the Foreign Secretary will recall what happened with HMS Cornwall a few years ago. I support what the Government have said today. They are right in the action that they have taken and I urge them to continue to be firm in a practical and sensible way.

May I ask the Foreign Secretary a specific question? When did the ambassador or his staff last meet the Iranian authorities to discuss the security of the embassy? Were any concerns raised at that meeting and was there a report back to the Foreign Office in London expressing those concerns? If he does not know the answer, will he write to me with the information?

I am grateful for the support of the hon. Gentleman, who remembers well the United Kingdom’s previous incidents with Iran. There have of course been regular discussions, and concerns have regularly been expressed about the security of the embassy to the Iranian authorities, but I will have to write to him with the exact chronology that he is asking for.

This morning, I met representatives of the Baha’i faith, who are clearly suffering greatly at the hands of the Iranians at the moment. Does the Foreign Secretary believe that Iran’s actions in relation to our embassy are symptomatic of a wider failure—a failure to observe not only international law but Iran’s national laws?

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. In recent times, and particularly during the period this year that we now know as the Arab spring, Iran has become a more repressive system—with greater persecution of minorities, more widespread imprisonment and persecution of journalists, and the house arrest of the two leading Opposition leaders. The constant persecution of members of the Baha’i faith is a very sharp and terrible example of that. My right hon. Friend is right to point to the wider failure to observe the Iranians’ own laws and obligations.

I join the Foreign Secretary in expressing regard for the personnel involved and in his unequivocal indictment of regime complicity in these deplorable attacks. On the respective embassy closures, do the Government have in mind particular conditions for their reopening—conditions that would be clearly and readily achievable? Otherwise there is the danger of a spiral of deterioration, of the UK’s position becoming conflated with that of the US and of the UK becoming dependent on the vicarious good offices of others.

That is a fair question, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that this has just happened and it is too early to set out such conditions. Clearly, any reopening of the embassies could take place only in a much improved situation in respect of relations with Iran. I would not want to set out those conditions prematurely; we will have to consider the matter over time.

Yesterday’s dreadful events have attracted a proportionate and measured response from the British Government. In respect of seeking to maintain a dialogue with the Iranians, does my right hon. Friend agree that that dialogue should extend to all arms of Government and all shades of opinion within the governmental structures of Iran?

In common with several other right hon. and hon. Members, my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that there are different shades of opinion even within the regime in Iran—of course, there are many more outside the regime. I believe, for instance, that the motives and concerns of the Iranian Foreign Ministry may have been quite different, yesterday, from the motives of other parts of the regime. We have to be conscious of that and, in our contacts with Iran, bear in mind that wide diversity of opinion.

Will my right hon. Friend clarify the initial part of his statement? Did I hear rightly that both north and south embassies were attacked simultaneously and that the attacks were possibly sponsored by the state?

Yes. The militia organisation, the Basij, is well known to be regime-sponsored. It is unlikely, therefore, that such events take place spontaneously or through something just getting out of control. The fact that those attacks on our two embassy compounds were simultaneous is probably further evidence that they were intentional and premeditated.

I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement and the resolute approach he has taken following such an outrageous development. May I ask him what measures he will take with the states neighbouring Iran to increase and enhance diplomacy?

We are already engaged in that work. I mentioned the very intensive contact we have had with Turkey in the past 24 hours—nothing unusual in our case, but particularly intense yesterday—and with the Gulf states, many of which are deeply alarmed about the wider behaviour and intentions of Iran, quite apart from this incident. We shall continue and quite possibly step up our diplomatic engagement with all those countries about this most unfortunate turn of events.

Will my right hon. Friend say what contact he has had over the past 24 hours with his US counterpart and what actions, diplomatic or otherwise, the US is considering to support the UK Government’s position?

We are of course in constant touch with the United States. Secretary Clinton and President Obama have issued very strong statements about this incident. The United States does not have an embassy in Tehran, but the Americans are strongly supportive of the action we are taking and will, of course, reflect that in their wider diplomacy around the globe.

May I take the opportunity to commend my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for the robust action that he has taken? It is clearly necessary in view of the hostile, belligerent, anti-Semitic regime in Tehran, which in many respects is clearly a force for evil around the world. I also take this opportunity to commend the sangfroid of the British ambassador in Tehran, who is clearly following in the finest traditions of the diplomatic service. Is there an option for compensation, which I understand the British Government could, under the Vienna protocol, insist on for damage done to its property, which was supposedly under the protection of the Iranian Government?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. His comments, like those of many other Members, demonstrate the high regard of all parties in the House for the conduct of our diplomats, in particular our ambassador and our chargé d’affaires, both of whom did extremely well. We have already put the question of compensation and the financial liability of the Iranian Government to the Iranian chargé d’affaires, and we shall continue to pursue the matter.

In my right hon. Friend’s view, is the Government-inspired assault on the British embassy in Tehran indicative of the weakness or the strength of the internal political leadership in Iran?

My hon. Friend asks a very pertinent and relevant question. Other hon. Members have asked about the increased general repression in Iran in recent months. To the extent that this incident is part of that, I think it is an indication of the weakness of the regime and its fear of local opinion, as well as of international opinion. It should certainly be seen as weakness rather than strength.