Iran MPs vote to expel British ambassador
Iran's parliament voted Sunday to expel the British ambassador in retaliation for fresh Western sanctions over Tehran's nuclear programme and warned that other countries could also be punished.
The bill they adopted, which now has to go to the Guardians Council for approval, demands Iran's ambassador to Britain also be withdrawn as diplomatic relations are reduced to the level of charge d'affaires.
Economic and trade relations with Britain, already meagre, would be pared "to the minimum" under the text, which requires the measures be effected within two weeks.
The lawmakers also raised the possibility of punishing "other countries that behave in a manner similar to that of Britain."
"This is only the beginning," parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani warned.
The session, carried live on state radio, saw 179 deputies vote in favour of the text, four against, and 11 abstain.
On Wednesday, when the bill was introduced, Britain said "it would be regrettable" if its ambassador to Tehran, Dominick Chilcott, were to be expelled. Chilcott took up his post last month.
Britain, whose City of London is the world's biggest financial centre alongside New York, said on November 14 it was "ceasing all contact" between its financial system and that of Iran.
That measure, announced in coordination with similar sanctions by the United States and Canada, came a week after a report by the UN atomic energy watchdog strongly suggesting Tehran was researching nuclear weapons.
Britain and Canada have embassies in Tehran. The United States does not, having closed it after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. Canada's mission is already headed only by a charge d'affaires.
Iran has dismissed the UN report as "baseless" and insists its nuclear programme is for entirely peaceful purposes.
On Wednesday, Britain called for senior levels of contact to be maintained despite the strains.
Prior to Chilcott taking up his post, the British mission in Tehran was run by the embassy's charge d'affaires.
"We believe that it is important to maintain senior channels of communication and especially at times like these. It is only through dialogue that we can solve the problems we face," a spokesman for Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office said.
But Larijani said Sunday that "the British government should be aware that the Majlis (Iran's parliament) is monitoring its actions carefully."
The bill's author, Allaeddin Boroujerdi, who heads parliament's national security and foreign policy commission, said: "Should Britain cease its hostile approach to Iran, then we can upgrade ties once more."
Several lawmakers had wanted to take the bill further, by cutting off all diplomatic relations with Britain.
"We must sever all ties with Britain," said one, Mahmoud Ahmadi Bighash. "We must place a lock on the British embassy and ignore them until they come begging like the Americans."
Another, Hossein Sobhaninia, said: "Lawmakers should give a crushing response to British threats."
And another, Zohreh Elahian, charged Britain had an "agenda of sedition aimed at toppling the Islamic republic" following Iran's contested 2009 presidential election.
A protest against the new sanctions was planned for Tuesday in front of the British embassy, the Fars news agency reported.
EU nations were expected to unveil more sanctions against Iran at a foreign ministers meeting next Thursday. France has called for a freeze on Iranian central bank assets and an embargo on Iranian oil.
Iran is already subject to four sets of UN sanctions designed to pressure it to halt its uranium enrichment activities, as well as unilateral Western sanctions.
Russia and China have slammed the latest Western sanctions, calling them illegal and a barrier to resuming stalled negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme.
© 2011 AFP