The Iranian government vented its anger at Britain last night, declaring that London deserved a “punch in the mouth” for its role as the “chief culprit” behind the mass protests sweeping the Islamic Republic.
The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei further upped the ante at home, branding senior opposition members “enemies of God” who deserved to be executed.
And in what human rights groups and diplomats described as another “ominous development” Iranian police told leading opposition members that they could no longer guarantee their safety outside their homes.
The office of Iran's Supreme Leader, who possesses ultimate authority in the country, said: “Those who are behind the current sedition in the country are mohareb (enemies of God) and the law is very clear about punishment of a mohareb.” Under Iran's Islamic law the sentence for a mohareb is execution.
The British ambassador to Tehran was summoned to the foreign ministry to answer charges of interfering. Iranian anger had been fuelled by Foreign Secretary David Miliband's public condemnation of the crackdown, although Washington, Berlin and Paris have been similarly critical. Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki warned: “Britain will receive a punch on the mouth if it does not stop its nonsense.”
The tension between Iran and Western powers is only likely to increase as the end-of-year deadline looms for Tehran to accept a deal to send low-enriched uranium abroad to be converted, and thus prove it is not interested in developing a nuclear weapon.
Washington has said it is already considering its next steps if the deal fails.
Last night there were unconfirmed reports that Iran was trying to import 1,350 tonnes of purified uranium ore from Kazakhstan in violation of UN sanctions already in place.
A summary of an intelligence report, obtained by the Associated Press, said that Tehran was willing to pay $450m for the shipment.