Expelled Iranians home amid mounting West concerns
Iran's diplomats expelled from London over the storming of the British embassy in Tehran arrived home on Saturday, as US Vice President Joe Biden was to discuss the West's mounting concerns in Turkey.
The Iranian diplomats were kept out of the sight of waiting media at the capital's Mehrabad airport after landing aboard an IranAir flight, media reported.
Some 150 hardline students chanting "Death to Britain" and holding flower garlands who were there to welcome them did not see them either, an AFP photographer said.
The diplomats were expelled from London on Friday in retaliation for the violent incursion into Britain's embassy and a second diplomatic compound in Tehran on Tuesday by hundreds of pro-regime Iranian protesters.
Britain, which evacuated all its own diplomats from Tehran for their safety after the attacks, closed its embassy and ordered Iran to do likewise.
It said the assault on its embassy could only have occurred with the tacit consent of the Islamic republic's leaders.
Foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was at the airport to welcome the diplomats.
"Now the British government is trying to involve other European countries in our bilateral issue. But we have told the Europeans not to trouble relations with Iran because of Britain," he said, Fars news agency reported.
The assault on the British embassy and downgrading of diplomatic ties between the two countries to their minimum level has tipped into crisis a showdown between the West and Iran over its controversial nuclear programme.
France, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy have recalled their own ambassadors from Tehran for consultations, in solidarity with Britain.
The European Union has tightened sanctions on Iran and warned that extra measures targeting its financial and oil sectors could follow.
The sanctions were coordinated with similar measures by the United States and Canada.
The pro-regime protesters who went on their anti-British rampage on Tuesday were reflecting official fury at new British sanctions cutting off transactions with all of Iran's financial sector, including its central bank.
"Iran is not the sort of country where spontaneously a demonstration congregates then attacks a foreign embassy. That sort of activity is only done with the acquiescence and support of the state," Britain's evacuated ambassador, Dominick Chilcott, told British media on Friday.
US Vice President Joe Biden, who arrived in Ankara on Thursday, encouraged Iran's neighbour to follow Western efforts to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions and impose sanctions on Tehran.
"We continue to support a diplomatic solution to our concerns with Iran," Biden told the Hurriyet daily.
"However, we also believe that putting pressure on Iran's leadership is necessary to secure a negotiated settlement, and that is why we encourage our partners, including Turkey, to take steps to impose new sanctions on Iran, as we have continued to do."
Biden is scheduled to meet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday to discuss the West's mounting concerns on Iran.
Foreign media in Tehran on Thursday were told that covering all anti-British, pro-regime demonstrations was now forbidden -- an unprecedented restriction that adds to many other reporting curbs already in place.
Iranians staged a fresh anti-British demonstration in Tehran on Friday in support of the storming of the British compounds, according to the official IRNA news agency.
© 2011 AFP