By Arab News
UK Prime Minister David Cameron says Iran’s failure to defend the British embassy from an attack in Tehran was a disgrace that will have serious consequences.
Cameron called the storming of the embassy on Tuesday by a mob “outrageous and indefensible.”
The mob surged past riot police into the British Embassy complex — which they pelted with petrol bombs and stones — two days after Iran’s Parliament approved a bill that reduces diplomatic relations with Britain following London’s support of recently upgraded Western sanctions on Tehran over its disputed nuclear program.
Flames shot out of a sport utility vehicle parked outside the brick building.
Demonstrators outside the embassy also burned British flags and clashed with police as the rally, which had been organized by student groups at universities and seminaries.
Less than two hours later, police appeared to regain control of the site. But the official IRNA news agency said about 300 protesters entered the British ambassador’s residence in another part of the city and replaced British flags with Iranian ones.
The prime minister said all embassy staff have been accounted for and praised Britain’s ambassador to Iran for handling a “dangerous situation with calm and professionalism.”
Cameron said the Iranian government will face “serious consequences” for “its unacceptable failure” to protect diplomats in line with international law.
He said those measures will be considered in the coming days, adding that Iran’s government must immediately secure Britain’s compound and ensure the safety of its embassy staff.
British Foreign Minister William Hague said Britain took the storming of its embassy “extremely seriously” and also warned there would be “further and serious consequences” for Iran.
Hague said the assault on the embassy and another diplomatic compound in Tehran by young men chanting “Death to Britain” was a “grave breach” of the Vienna Convention which requires host countries to protect diplomats.
The UN Security Council strongly condemned the storming of the embassy and warned Iran that it must protect diplomatic personnel. “The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the attacks” against the British Embassy in Tehran, said a statement agreed by the 15-nation body.
European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called on Iran to fulfill international obligations to protect embassies. “It is with extreme concern that I have learnt that the premises of the UK Embassy in Tehran have been overrun by demonstrators. I strongly condemn this totally unacceptable incursion.”
Iran’s Foreign Ministry expressed regret over the “unacceptable” storming of the embassy, saying that “a small number of protesters” were to blame.
In Washington, US President Barack Obama strongly urged the Iranian government on Tuesday to take to task those responsible for storming the British embassy in Tehran.
“All of us are deeply disturbed by the crashing of the … embassy,” he said during a meeting at the White House with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
“I strongly urge the Iranian government to hold those responsible to task,” Obama said. He called on Iran’s government to respond quickly.
“We expect to see some sort of definitive action some time very quickly,” he said during the Oval Office meeting.
The British Foreign Office harshly denounced the melee and said Iran has a “clear duty” under international law to protect diplomats and offices. “We are outraged by this,” said the statement. “It is utterly unacceptable and we condemn it.”
It said a “significant number” of protesters entered the compound and caused vandalism, but gave no other details on damage or whether diplomatic staff was inside the embassy, although the storming occurred after business hours.
Britain urged Iran to take urgent action to bring the situation under control.
“Senior officials have spoken to the Iranian charge d’affaires in London to urge the Iranian authorities to act with utmost urgency to ensure the situation is brought under control and to protect our diplomatic compound, as they are obliged to do under international law,” Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement.
The Foreign Office said Tuesday it was urging its citizens in Iran to “stay indoors” and “keep a low profile” after protesters stormed Britain’s embassy and another diplomatic compound in Tehran.
The semiofficial Mehr news agency said embassy staff had left the compound before the mobs entered, but it also said those who occupied the area had taken six staff as hostages. It did not give their nationalities and the report was later removed from the website without elaboration.
The protesters broke through after clashing with anti-riot police and chanting for its takeover. “Death to England,” some cried in the first significant assault of a foreign diplomatic area in Iran in years. More protesters poured into the compound as police tried to clear the site. Smoke rose from some areas of the embassy grounds and the British flag was replaced with an Iranian banner. Occupiers also tore down picture of Queen Elizabeth.
The occupier called for the closure of the embassy calling it a “spy den” — the same phrase used after militants stormed the US Embassy in Tehran after the 1979 revolution and held 52 hostages for 444 days.
The rally outside the British Embassy — on a main street in Tehran downtown — included protesters carrying photographs of nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari, who was killed last year in an attack that Iran blamed on Israeli and British spy services.
State TV reported that another group of students gathered at the gate of British ambassador’s residence in northern Tehran, at the same time.
Britain’s Foreign Office said it was in contact with embassy officials.