(Adds German and Dutch reaction, Iranian political scene)
* Britain shuts Iranian embassy and expels staff
* Says ties are not completely severed
* Storming of embassy exposes feuding within Iranian elite
By Robin Pomeroy and Mitra Amiri
TEHRAN, Nov 30 Britain shut Iran's embassy
in London and expelled all its staff on Wednesday, saying the
storming of the British mission in Tehran could not have taken
place without consent from Iranian authorities.
Foreign Secretary William Hague also said the British
Embassy in Tehran had been closed and all staff evacuated
following the attack on Tuesday by a crowd that ransacked
offices and burned British flags in a protest over sanctions
imposed by Britain on Tehran.
Iran warned that Britain's closure of the Iranian embassy in
London would lead to further retaliation.
Tuesday's incident was the most violent so far as relations
between the two countries steadily deteriorate due to Iran's
wider dispute with the West over its nuclear programme.
Analysts say it also appeared to reflect factionalism within
Iran's ruling establishment, a unique hybrid of clerical and
secular authority, and efforts by hardliners to undermine
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
On top of its ban on British financial institutions dealing
with Iran and its central bank last week, Britain has called for
further measures and a diplomatic source said London would now
support a ban on oil imports from the Islamic Republic.
Hague said Iranian ambassadors across the European Union had
been summoned to receive strong protests over the incident. But
Britain stopped short of severing ties with Iran completely.
"The Iranian charge (d'affaires) 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," Hague told parliament.
"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 have now left Iran."
France, Germany and the Netherlands said they were recalling
their ambassadors for consultations. Germany said it would offer
to take over consular duties on behalf of Britain in Tehran.
It was the worst crisis between Britain and Iran since full
diplomatic relations were restored in 1999, 10 years after
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's fatwa that author Salman Rushdie
could be killed for writing "The Satanic Verses".
Hague said it was "fanciful" to think Iranian authorities
could not protect the British embassy, or that the assault could
have taken place without "some degree of regime consent".
"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," he added.
Mindful of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran,
when radical students held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days,
Britain waited until all its two dozen diplomatic staff and
dependents had left the country to announce its move.
Iran's state TV quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as
calling London's closure of the Iranian embassy "hasty".
"Naturally the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran would
take further appropriate action regarding the issue," a news
RIFTS IN IRAN
Negotiations on Iran's nuclear programme were now "dead",
said Ali Ansari, director of the Institute for Iranian Studies
at St Andrews University in Scotland.
"What you are moving into is a period of containment and
quarantine. I don't think we are into a military confrontation,
but we are into a period of containment and they (the West) are
going to try and tighten the noose."
The attack also exposes widening rifts within Iran's ruling
elite. It appeared to be part of a move by the conservatives who
dominate parliament to force Ahmadinejad to heed their demand to
expel the British ambassador.
Ahmadinejad and his ministers have shown no willingness to
compromise on their refusal to halt Iran's nuclear work but have
sought to keep talks open to limit what sanctions are imposed.
The West believes the programme is aimed at building a
nuclear weapon, a charge Tehran strongly denies.
"This incident was planned by elements who are not opposed
per se to negotiations but want to stop them merely because of
their own petty political struggles," said Trita Parsi, a
U.S.-based expert on Western-Iranian relations.
"The push to get the UK ambassador out came from parliament
which is headed by Ali Larijani," Parsi said. "When Larijani was
chief nuclear negotiator Ahmadinejad carried out a similar
campaign against negotiations."
Ahmadinejad was once seen as a protege of Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But he has faced challenges this year
from hardliners who fear his faction threatens the role of the
Islamic clergy in the political system that emerged after Iran's
1979 revolution: a parliamentary one, with a directly elected
president overseen by a powerful cleric.
Khamenei's recent comment that the directly elected
presidency could be replaced with one elected by parliament has
been welcomed by those who want to clip Ahmadinejad's wings.
Conservative newspapers trumpeted the embassy seizure.
The daily Vatan-e Emrouz declared: "Fox's den seized",
referring to Britain's nickname "the old fox" which reflects a
widely-held view in Iran that London still wields great power
behind the scenes in Iranian and international affairs.
While Iranian police at first did not stop the protesters
storming the embassy gates, they later fired tear gas to
disperse them and freed six Britons held by demonstrators.
Iran's Foreign Ministry expressed its regret for the
"unacceptable behaviour of few demonstrators".
The protesters hit back, saying they had been "seeking to
answer to the plots and malevolence of this old fox" and the
Foreign Ministry should not sacrifice "the goals of the nation
for diplomatic and political relations".
"We expected the police to be on the side of the students
instead of confronting them," said a statement by a group
calling itself the Islamic community of Tehran universities.
Britain imposed sanctions on the Iran central bank last week
after a report by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency
suggested Iran may have worked on developing a nuclear arsenal.
Iran, the world's fifth biggest oil exporter, says it only
wants nuclear technology to generate electricity.
Britain has not backed a ban on Iranian oil imports, but
that could now change, the diplomatic source told Reuters, and
London will likely back a call by France to do just that and
impose "sanctions on a scale that would paralyse the regime".
The United States, which cut diplomatic relations with Iran
after its embassy was stormed in 1979, has not bought Iranian
oil since the 1990s, but has not taken any measures against
Iran's central bank. That would cripple Iran's economy as it
would not be able to process payments for its vital oil exports.
(Additional reporting by Hossein Jaseb and Ramin Mostafavi in
Tehran, Adrian Croft and Tim Castle in London and Parisa Hafezi
in Istanbul; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Andrew Roche)