Britain has ordered the expulsion of all Iranian diplomats from the United Kingdom and ordered Tehran to close its embassy in London within 48 hours.
The move comes a day after hard-line Islamist university students stormed the British Embassy in Tehran, smashing windows, starting fires, and looting property while police largely looked on. Hundreds of protesters also stormed a residential compound for British diplomats in another part of Tehran, reportedly briefly seizing six British Embassy staff there.
Iran's government has expressed regret about what it called the "unacceptable behavior" of protesters, whose attacks began during an anti-British demonstration apparently authorized by the authorities.
The Iranian government has denied any connection to the demonstration. But Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani said on November 30 that the "wrath" of the attackers was the result of "several decades of domination-seeking behavior by Britain."
Addressing an open session of parliament in Tehran, Larijani also called the UN Security Council's condemnation of the embassy attack a "hasty move."
Iran's Mehr news agency also quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying the British decision was "hasty" and the result of the actions of "some angry protesters." He said Iran had begun an investigation into the matter and "will confront the intruders through legal channels."
In a statement
, Iran's largest reformist student group condemned the attack on the British Embassy and said the attackers were not students.
Iranians express their opinions on embassy attack to RFE/RL's Radio Farda
In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague told Parliament the assaults were shameful acts by Iranians with direct links to the regime in Tehran.
"The majority of demonstrators were from a student Basij militia organization. We should be clear from the outset that this is an organization controlled by elements of the Iranian regime," Hague said.
"The demonstrators proceeded systematically to vandalize and loot the homes of staff located on the site and the ambassador's residence. They destroyed furniture, stole property, including the personal possessions of our staff, and set fire to the main embassy office building."
Hague said it was absurd for the Iranian authorities to claim the government in Tehran was not involved in an organized plot to attack British diplomatic facilities in Iran.
"No difficulty in relations can ever excuse in any way or under any circumstances the failure to protect diplomatic staff or diplomatic premises," Hague said.
"Iran is a country where opposition leaders are under house arrest, where more than 500 people have been executed so far this year, and where genuine protest is ruthlessly stamped on," he continued. "The idea that the Iranian authorities could not have protected our embassy or that this assault could have taken place without some degree of regime consent is fanciful."
Violation Of Vienna Convention
Hague also said the failure of Iranian authorities to stop the attackers means that Tehran has violated international law.
"The events are a grave violation of the Vienna Convention, which states that a host state is required to protect the premises of a diplomatic mission against any intrusion, damage, or disturbance," he said. "This is a breach of international responsibility for which any nation should be ashamed."
As of November 30, Hague said, the British Embassy in Tehran is closed and the last of the embassy's U.K.-based staff have been evacuated from Iran to protect their safety. About 24 British Embassy staff and dependents were living in Tehran. All are adults; Britain will not post diplomats to Iran with small children for security reasons.
The action marks the largest diplomatic retaliation against Iran since 1979, when the Iranian government endorsed the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by hard-line Islamists who held 52 embassy staff there hostage for 444 days.
It also follows a souring of relations between Tehran and the West amid deepening suspicions that Tehran is secretly trying to build nuclear weapons.
Despite the severity of the British government's response to the November 29 violence, Hague said Britain still wanted to maintain diplomatic ties with Tehran so that it can discuss concerns about Iran's nuclear program.
"This does not amount to the severing of diplomatic relations in their entirety," Hague said. "It is action that reduces our relations with Iran to the lowest level consistent with the maintenance of diplomatic relations."
On November 27, Iran's parliament approved a bill to downgrade relations with Britain, one of the United States' closest allies with diplomatic envoys in the Islamic republic. That legislation called for British diplomats to be expelled from Iran within two weeks.
The Iranian legislation is seen as retaliation against British moves last week to severe all financial ties between Britain and Iran following a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that suggested Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, an allegation Tehran denies.
Meanwhile, France, Germany and the Netherlands have recalled their ambassadors to Tehran for "consultations."
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said in a statement that France's ambassador, Bruno Foucher, had been recalled over Iran's "flagrant and unacceptable" violation of the Vienna Convention.
Earlier, Norway announced that it had temporarily shut its embassy in Tehran due to "security concerns" but said it was not withdrawing its diplomatic staff. And Germany said it was recalling its ambassador from Iran for consultations following what it called the "unacceptable" storming of the British Embassy.
Written by Ron Synovitz, with agency reports