In February, I updated the House on progress in our bilateral relationship with Iran, following the appointment of non-resident chargé d’affaires in November 2013, Official Report, 24 February 2014, column 26. I said then that our decision to end formal protecting power arrangements was a sign of our increasing confidence in conducting bilateral business directly rather than through our Swedish and Omani intermediaries.
Over the past four months, we have continued to expand our bilateral engagement. British and Iranian officials have paid regular visits to one another’s capitals. This has enabled us to make a range of practical improvements to the functioning of our respective embassies. And it has allowed us to discuss a broad range of issues, including areas where we and Iran have sharply differing views.
Our two primary concerns when considering whether to reopen our embassy in Tehran have been assurance that our staff would be safe and secure, and confidence that they would be able to carry out their functions without hindrance. There has never been any doubt in my mind that we should have an embassy in Tehran if the circumstances allowed. Iran is an important country in a volatile region, and maintaining embassies around the world, even under difficult conditions, is a central pillar of the UK’s global diplomatic approach. On Saturday evening I telephoned Foreign Minister Zarif to discuss the progress we have made to date and our common interest in continuing to move forward in the UK-Iran bilateral relationship.
I have therefore now decided the circumstances are right to reopen our embassy in Tehran. There are a range of practical issues that we will need to resolve first. However it is our intention to reopen the embassy in Tehran with a small initial presence as soon as these practical arrangements have been made. I expect the Iranian Government will similarly choose to take steps to reopen their embassy in London.
Inevitably, the initial embassy presence will only able to offer a limited range of services at first. For the time being, Iranians will still need to apply in Abu Dhabi or Istanbul for visas for travel to the UK. But encouraging people to people contact is an important priority and something that I hope we will be able to make progress on as the embassy grows in size and capability over the following months.