UK Embassy to Reopen Sunday

UK Embassy to Reopen SundayUK Embassy to Reopen Sunday

Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is due in Tehran this weekend for the formal reopening of London's embassy on Sunday, four years after its closure when a group of protesters stormed the British mission.  

"The foreign secretary will travel to Iran to reopen our embassy there," a British diplomatic source told Reuters on Thursday.

Until a new ambassador is announced, the embassy will be led by Ajay Sharma, until now the non-resident chargé d'affaires.

IRNA quoted a Foreign Ministry source as confirming the news.

Elsewhere, an official told AFP that Iran's Embassy in London would be reopened "At the same time" as the British Embassy.

Hammond, who will be the first British foreign secretary to visit Iran in more than a decade, will take a small group of business leaders, including representatives from Royal Dutch Shell and other companies, with him on the trip.

He will have meetings with President Hassan Rouhani, Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, and with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

With the business delegation, the British top diplomat will meet the Iranian ministers of industries and business, petroleum and transport.

***Thaw in Ties

The move to restore full diplomatic relations marks a thawing of Tehran-London ties since a nuclear deal was announced last month between Iran and Britain and the other four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, namely the US, France, China and Russia, plus Germany.

In exchange for Tehran accepting temporary constraints on its nuclear program, the accord will allow the lifting of economic sanctions, a highly anticipated outcome that has sparked a flurry of interest from countries seeking to re-connect with oil-rich Iran.

With the prospect of an end to sanctions, foreign businesses are already jockeying for business in Iran, a country with a largely young and educated population of about 80 million. Officials have even laid on bus tours for visiting executives looking to refurbish oil refineries.

Britain broke off ties with Iran in 2011 and withdrew its diplomatic staff from Tehran and ordered the staff of the Iranian Embassy in London to leave. The move came after an angry group stormed the British Embassy to protest London's policy on Iran.

Nearly two years later in October 2013 and following Rouhani's election, the two sides agreed to appoint non-resident chargés d’affaires as a first step toward normalizing ties. Bilateral diplomatic consultations have been underway to reopen embassies ever since.