Hammond: Time for Regular Engagement

Hammond: Time for Regular Engagement Hammond: Time for Regular Engagement

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in Tehran that despite lingering differences the resumption of bilateral ties has set in place a mechanism for more frequent diplomatic contacts.  

"We clearly don't agree on everything. We will still have substantial differences of view about many areas of policy and regional politics. But the fact is we will now have a structure and a mechanism where we will be able to speak to each other regularly and in a relatively low-key way about these issues," Hammond told the Guardian on the sidelines of a ceremony held to officially reopen the British Embassy in Tehran on Sunday.   

Today also saw the simultaneous reopening of the Iranian Embassy in London, nearly four years after the storming of the British mission by angry protesters which brought about the closure of embassies and a break in bilateral diplomatic ties.

Mohammad Hassan Habibollahzadeh and Ajay Sharma, until now non-resident charges d'affaires of Iran and Britain, will be running the two sides' missions for the time being, Fars News Agency reported.

The thaw follows a nuclear deal struck on July 14 between Iran on the one hand and Britain along with other major powers on the other to settle more than 12 years of dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Commenting on the issue, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters after a conference on the nuclear pact in Tehran, “The reopening of Britain’s Embassy and the flurry of European visits to Iran indicate that everyone has realized that Iran plays a constructive role in the region and the world.”   

At the reopening ceremony Hammond watched Britain’s flag being raised while its national anthem played.

He is only the second British foreign minister to visit Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The last visit was by Jack Straw in 2003.

  Start of New Phase

“Today’s ceremony marks the end of one phase in the relationship between our two countries and the start of a new one - one that I believe offers the promise of better,” Hammond was quoted by Reuters as saying.

He said the storming was a low point in diplomacy between the two countries, but the relationship has improved “step by step” since the election of President Hassan Rouhani in 2013.

“Reopening our embassies is a key step to improved bilateral relations,” the top British diplomat said, adding that London and Tehran should be ready to discuss challenges including extremism, regional stability and the spread of the so-called Islamic State militant group in Syria and Iraq. Hammond held talks with Zarif on Sunday and was expected to meet Rouhani today. The top diplomats also held a joint press conference.

  2 Iranian Banks to Operate in UK    

Governor of the Central Bank of Iran, Valiollah Seif said Sunday that two Iranian banks would soon open branches in Britain. He made the comments in a meeting with Hammond.  

Seif hoped the recent thaw in two-way ties would open a new chapter in interaction between the two countries. “Luckily, there is a good track record which can help us expand transactions,” he said.

Four Iranian banks had been operating in the UK prior to sanctions and now with the new agreement Bank Melli and PIB can start operations there, he noted.

In the meeting Hammond said it would be very helpful and very positive to begin a dialogue about how to create conditions which would allow British banks and British financial institutions to engage in the financing trade and investment in Iran.

“There is a huge appetite both on the part of our commercial and industrial businesses to engage with the opportunity of Iran opening up and there is huge appetite on the part of our financial institutions to support that activity but of course it has to be done in the proper way,” he said.