Low key welcome for Iran diplomats
Published 03/12/2011 | 03:52
Iranian diplomats have arrived home following their expulsion from London in retaliation for attacks on British compounds in Tehran.
About 150 militant protesters waiting with flower necklaces had gathered at Tehran's Mehrabad airport to give the two dozen diplomats and their families a hero's welcome.
But the Iranian government apparently resisted any high-profile display which could worsen the fallout and took the diplomats off unseen from a back door.
Tuesday's storming of the British Embassy and residential complex - which the British government alleges was sanctioned by Tehran's ruling elite - deepened Iran's isolation, which has grown over the decade-long stand-off with the West over its nuclear programme.
Germany, France and the Netherlands have recalled their ambassadors, while Italy and Spain summoned Iranian envoys to condemn the attacks. It amounted to the most serious diplomatic fallout with the West since the 1979 takeover of the US Embassy after the Islamic Revolution.
Some Iranian political figures have voiced doubts over whether anything can be gained from escalating the diplomatic battle. The subdued nature of Saturday's welcome ceremony seemed to reflect disagreements between hard-liners and the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which condemned the attack on Britain's embassy.
Iran's relations with Britain have become increasingly strained in recent months, largely due to tensions over Tehran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment, a key component of its nuclear programme.
The process is of deep concern internationally because it can be used to produce material for nuclear warheads in addition to reactor fuel. Iran insists its programme is entirely peaceful. Along with the United States and other nations in Europe, Britain has backed sanctions that have so far failed to push Iran to halt its enrichment programme.
Hard-liners in Iran have said the embassy attack was an outpouring of the wrath of the Iranian people who believe Britain is a hostile country seeking to damage and weaken the Islamic Republic.
Mohammad Mohammadian, a representative of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, praised the attackers, saying they had targeted the "epicentre of sedition".