x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Iran releases five British staff

Iran frees five British embassy staff it arrested and claims it has no current plans to close embassies or downgrade diplomatic ties with foreign nations.

Iran said today it has freed five of the local British embassy staff it arrested on accusations of stoking post-election unrest, a move that further threatened tense ties with London. "Out of nine people arrested, five have been released," ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi said at a press conference in Tehran. Mr Ghashghavi also said that Iran, which has accused Western nations particularly Britain and the United States of "meddling," has no current plans to close embassies or downgrade diplomatic ties with foreign nations.

"There is no plan at the moment to close any embassy or downgrade ties with them," Mr Ghashghavi said when asked if Tehran planned to close the British embassy. The Fars news agency, announcing the arrests on Sunday, said the British embassy staffers were accused of playing a "considerable role" in the unrest that swept Iran after the disputed re-election of the president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The intelligence minister Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie accused the British embassy of using its local staff for "non-diplomatic objectives, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"The embassy sent staff among the rioters to direct them in order to escalate the riots so that the rioters could file fabricated reports about the (rallies) to the world from various locations," he said. The British foreign secretary David Miliband said on Sunday that London had protested strongly over the arrests, which he described as "harassment and intimidation" and dismissed claims the embassy was behind the demonstrations.

EU nations also vowed to respond to any harassment of diplomats in Iran with a "strong and collective response," Mr Miliband told reporters at an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Corfu on Sunday. The Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who has previously said Tehran was considering downgrading its ties with London, urged Britain and the EU not to take rash action over the arrests. "Don't continue with this losing game because this is neither in the interests of the British people nor the two countries' relations that have (already) been damaged because of the British government's behaviour," he said.

He also called for European countries and officials to "revise their stand" towards Iran, after the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused European and American officials of making "idiotic comments" about the country. Britain and Iran, which have long had troubled ties, last week expelled diplomats in tit-for-tat moves in the wake of the election tumult. * AFP