LONDON (AP) — The Iranian Embassy in London reopened its doors Thursday more than two years after it shut down over diplomatic tensions between the Islamic Republic and the United Kingdom.
Diplomats in London said only the Iranian mission's consular section — which handles visas and commercial affairs — has resumed operations, and even then on a limited basis. Still, the hoisting of Iran's red-white-and-green flag over its west London embassy building marked another step in the thawing relations between the two countries.
"This is the next stage of the step-by-step process of taking forward our bilateral relationship with Iran," Britain's Foreign Office said in a written statement.
The reopening also marked an end to the "protecting power" arrangements by which Sweden worked on Britain's behalf in Iran, and Oman worked on Iran's behalf in Britain. Such arrangements are typical of relationships that have become so badly strained that the two countries have to communicate through their allies.
For the moment, British-Iranian relations will be handled through non-resident diplomats, with the opening of the missions' political sections pending on the outcome of further negotiations. The British Embassy in Tehran was closed in late 2011 after hard-liners overran the building. Iran's Embassy in London also was closed.
In Tehran, the plan was to hoist a British Embassy plaque at the old building (along with an "Embassy Closed" sign.) Diplomats said Sweden and other EU countries will provide consular support for the relatively small number of U.K. citizens in Iran.
Meanwhile, a few lights were on in Iran's Embassy building in London. A person who picked up the phone there and identified himself as A. Elahi told The Associated Press that it had opened with local staff.
Relations between the two countries have improved since moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took office in August.