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News analysis: British embassy reopening underlines Europe’s eagerness to return to Iran

By Yang Dingdu

TEHRAN, Aug. 23 (Xinhua) — The reopening of Britain’s embassy in Tehran on Sunday, only a month after the nuclear deal, revealed the eagerness of European countries to resume ties with Iran, analysts said.

British foreign secretary Philip Hammond raised the British flag on Sunday at the building of the country’s embassy in the capital Tehran four years after severing diplomatic ties with Iran. Two countries will now keep ties at charge d’affaires level until ambassadors are appointed.

Also on Sunday, Iranian Embassy in London was also reopened in the presence of Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Danesh-Yazdi and Iran’s charge d’affaires to Britain, Mohammad Hassan Habibollahzadeh.

Reopening the embassies is “a first step” towards reestablishing the links between the British people and Iranian people, Hammond said.

Britain closed the embassy and withdrew diplomatic mission in November 2011 when hundreds of Iranians protested near the embassy over expansion of UK sanctions against Iran, pulling down the British flag and demanding expulsion of the British ambassador.

Britain needs Iran 

“Britain needs Iran because Iran is emerging as an important country in the region and in the world,” Iranian analyst Saeed Leylaz told Xinhua, adding that Britain has realized that keeping their embassy shut in Tehran is against their own interests.

The British embassy will serve as an important and practical channel for Britain to engage with Iran on “many issues that we have shared interest,” Hammond said in at joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad-javad Zarif in Tehran.

Hammond said that Iran is and will remain a very important country in a strategically but volatile region.

Britain has been taking a step-by-step approach to improve ties with Iran since the election of moderate President Hassan Rouhani in July 2013.

The British foreign secretary said he is looking forward to a sustained dialogue and mutually beneficially cooperation between Britain and Iran. And the embassies will play an important role in maintaining such dialogue.

However, Mohammad Marandi, dean of the Faculty of International Studies at Tehran University, told Xinhua that Britain has a long way to go to earn the trust of Iran.

Britain has a bad record in ties with Iran since colonial times. It tried to colonize Iran, had a hand in the 1953 coup that overthrew the elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war and etc. Britain is yet to prove that it is sincere to build ties with Iran on the basis of mutual respect, Marandi said.

European officials swarm to Tehran 

Hammond is only the latest among a swarm of senior officials from European countries.

Following the recent landmark nuclear deal between Iran and the world major powers, western countries are eager to reestablish ties with Iran as the country is poised to become a key emerging market and a major player in regional issues, Marandi said.

Tehran has received various senior officials from the West over the past two months, including French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and German vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, all seeking to improve ties, especially economic cooperation.

Fabius and Gabriel both traveled with a large business delegation poised to seize the opportunity of Iran’s opening up after decades of economic sanctions.

Hammond is no exception. He and his business delegation met with Iran’s oil minister Bijan Zangeneh. The business delegates accompanying him are “more than willing” to invest in Iran once sanctions against the Islamic Republic are lifted, he said.

“There is a huge appetite both on the part of our commercial and industrial businesses to engage with the opportunity of Iran’s opening up,” Hammond said, adding that the nuclear deal has opened the door for the two countries to rebuild economic relations.

Iran has seen little to even negative economic growth in the past few years, with rampant inflation and unemployment. However, previous lack of growth may contribute even more to Iran’s tremendous untapped pent-up potential when sanctions are removed.

Iranian media expects tens of billions of U.S. dollars of oil revenues, kept abroad because of sanctions, to be repatriated. Others estimate such revenues could be as much as more than 100 billion dollars.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif said that the reopening of the British embassy in Tehran and presence of the Europeans in the country is an embodiment of “Iran’s constructive role in the region and in the world.”

Although there are some differences between Iran and some western countries, these differences can be dealt with in a “realistic approach,” Zarif said.

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