Iran's parliament orders ties with Britain reduced

AP News
Posted: Nov 27, 2011 7:55 AM
Iran's parliament orders ties with Britain reduced

Iran's parliament on Sunday approved a bill requiring both Iran and Britain to withdraw their respective ambassadors from each other's countries, following London's support of recently upgraded U.S. sanctions on Tehran.

Tehran's relations with Britain have become increasingly strained over the past few months, largely driven by increasing tensions over Tehran's disputed nuclear program. The West says Iran is developing weapons; Tehran denies the claims.

During an open session broadcast live by state radio, 171 out of 196 lawmakers present voted for the bill requiring Iran to reduce its relationship with Britain to the level of charge d'affaires within two weeks. Ismail Kowsari, a lawmaker and one of the sponsors of the bill, told the official IRNA news agency that the bill would lead to the removal of ambassadors.

Britain's Foreign Office on Sunday said the decision to order the country's ambassador, Dominick John Chilcott, to leave Tehran was regrettable.

"This unwarranted move will do nothing to help the regime address their growing isolation, or international concerns about their nuclear program and human rights record," the ministry said in a statement. "If the Iranian government acts on this, we will respond robustly in consultation with our international partners."

The bill needs ratification by a constitutional watchdog to be a law. It also requires reduction of the volume of trade to a "minimum" level. It allows Iran's foreign ministry to restore ambassador-level relations if the "hostile policy" of Britain changes.

Parliament's decision is seen as a reaction to London's support of a new U.S. package of sanctions in Iran. The measures were coordinated with Britain and Canada and build on previous sanctions to target Iran's oil and petrochemical industries and companies involved in nuclear procurement or enrichment activity.

The annual volume of trade between Iran and Britain is about $500 million.

Iranian oil exports are a large component of this trade. In the first six month of 2011, Iran sold some 11,000 barrels of crude to Britain per day, some 0.5 percent of Iran's daily production.

British Midland International airline carries some 80, 000 between Tehran and London per year in its daily flight. Some 100.000 Iranians live in Britain.

The tension between the two countries is not limited to the nuclear dispute.

Earlier in October, the mayor of Tehran ordered a lawsuit to be filed contesting the ownership of the land on which Britain's embassy has stood since the 19th century.

In September, Iran detained and summoned a group of people for their alleged links to BBC's Farsi-language service.

Since the turmoil which followed Iran's 2009 elections, Tehran has repeatedly accused Britain of fomenting unrest. London denies the charge.


Associated Press writer David Stringer contributed to this report from London.