EU condemns Iran's detention of embassy staff


THE EUROPEAN Union’s 27 nations yesterday joined forces to condemn Iran’s detention of British embassy staff in Tehran, as tensions escalated between Iran and the west in the wake of the disputed elections.

After Iran arrested nine local employees working at the UK embassy in Tehran, EU foreign ministers meeting in Corfu said they would respond firmly to any further “harassment or intimidation [by Iran] of foreign or Iranian staff working in embassies”.

David Miliband, Britain’s foreign secretary, said he was “deeply concerned” by the arrests and warned their continued detention was “quite unacceptable”.

The seriousness of the diplomatic stand-off was underscored by the EU statement in which foreign ministers said they were becoming “seriously concerned” about developments inside Iran.

Iran has in the last fortnight witnessed the greatest upheaval since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

But in a reminder of the delicacy of the diplomacy, the US administration and Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said the door was still open for a renewal of talks on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Mr Miliband said as of yesterday morning four of the nine staff had been released. The EU statement demanded all should be set free.

Iranian media said the staff had been detained because of their “considerable role” in instigating riots triggered by this month’s disputed election result. Hundreds of thousands of people have demonstrated in Tehran and other cities to demand a recount of votes of the June 12th presidential election after the authorities said Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the hardline incumbent, had secured a sweeping victory.

Iran has repeatedly claimed UK diplomats have been interfering in the country’s domestic affairs. Last week Iran forced two British envoys to leave the country, it triggered a tit-for-tat response.

Mr Miliband roundly rejected Iran’s allegations about the locally hired staff yesterday. “These are hard-working diplomatic staff and the idea that the British embassy is somehow behind the demonstrations and protests that have been taking place in Tehran in recent weeks is wholly without foundation,” he said.

The UK has been the focus of Iran’s diplomatic protests, partly because the US does not have an embassy in Iran.

– ( The Financial TimesLimited 2009)