United Kingdom-Iran Foreign Relations
Reaction to June 2009 Iranian Presidential Election:
In June, 2009 the United Kingdom expressed criticism over both alleged irregularities in the Iranian 2009 presidential elections and the Iranian security response to street protests following the vote. Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated that "[w]e are with others, including the whole of the European Union unanimously today, in condemning the use of violence, in condemning media suppression" and added that it "is for Iran now to show the world that the elections have been fair."
In October 2009, after Oxford University college established the Neda Agha Soltan Graduate Scholarship in Philosophy — named for the 27-year-old student who was fatally shot on June 20 on the sidelines of a Tehran demonstration against the recent presidential elections — Iran’s Embassy in London said in a letter that “it seems that the University of Oxford has stepped up involvement in a politically motivated campaign which is not only in contrast with academic objectives but also linked to British interference in Iran’s post-election turmoil.
Iran has in the past accused Britain of playing a role in the protests following the June 12 presidential election and meddling in its internal affairs, claiming that the massive protests were a plot by Iran’s enemies to overthrow the system of clerical rule through a velvet revolution.
In late December 2009, as political demonstrations against the Iranian regime continued to grow more violent, Iran accused Western countries of stirring up deadly anti-government protests in the capital and summoned the British ambassador, Simon Gass, to file a complaint. After members of the British government, including Foreign Secretary David Miliband, hailed the “great courage” of supporters of the opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called upon Gass, threatening Britain with “a slap in the mouth” if it does not stop interfering in Iranian affairs.
The United Kingdom has made several attempts, in cooperation with France and Germany, to diplomatically engage the Islamic Republic on its nuclear program by offering diplomatic and economic incentives in exchange for an opening of Iranian enrichment facilities to more International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. In 2005, Great Britain cast its vote in the IAEA to adopt safeguards against Iran, and in 2006 voted in favor of taking the conflict to the UN Security Council (UNSC).  Due to Iran’s lack of compliance with IAEA and UNSC resolutions, the UK has called for Iran to end its nuclear program until the international community and Iran can reach an agreement on the dispute. As part of the EU, Britain has supported a diplomatic resolution of the international conflict, though it has voted in favor of UNSC sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program. According to a statement by the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Bill Rammell in February 2009, Iran could produce a nuclear weapon in the next few years; Britain is prepared to impose unilateral sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program and in February 2009, the EU3 proposed a list of additional stricter sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
In June 2009, French President Nicolas Sarkozy represented the P5+1 in a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to encourage Iran to resume diplomatic negotiations, talks that are contingent upon Iran suspending its nuclear enrichment for the duration. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown indicated in July 2009 that London would be willing to reduce its own nuclear stockpile, but noted that such a move could not be undertaken as long as states such as Iran and North Korea were developing their own programs. Iran has so far refused to suspend enrichment. 
The US Treasury Department announced in July 2009 that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will meet with officials in the UK, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and France to discuss international sanctions against Iran's nuclear program. The announcement of Geithner’s visit to Europe and the Middle East came days after the G8 reaffirmed its commitment to finding a “diplomatic solution to the issue of Iran’s nuclear program,” however refrained from explicitly raising the threat of new sanctions. Supports for sanctions, however, appeared to be increasing in some western countries during August 2009. According to Gordon Brown, if further talks with Iran fail to yield tangible progress, “the world will have to look at stepping up sanctions against Iran as a matter of priority." German Chancellor Angela Merkel took a similar position earlier in August 2009, voicing support for renewed sanctions should Iran continue to flout international obligations.
In September 2009, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution laying out military and diplomatic safeguards against the use of civilian nuclear programs for military purposes. The resolution states that nations supplying nuclear material have the legal right to require the return of material if recipient countries withdraw from or do not comply with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The resolution also states that any country that halts IAEA inspections will be subject to UN Security Council safeguards. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy both insisted that Iran will face tougher sanctions if it does not fully cooperate with the IAEA.
In late November 2009, an IAEA measure to rebuke Iran for building a second enrichment plan in secret was passed 25 votes to three. The UK supported the resolution. The resolution by the 35-member IAEA Board of Governors called on Iran to halt uranium enrichment and immediately freeze the construction of its Fordo nuclear facility, located near Qom. Ahmadinejad stated that he believed “some people were deceived” in that they did not receive proper “analysis” of the issue, adding that any sanctions would have minimal effect and world powers would not think about launching an attack on Iran. He also claimed that Britain and Israel sabotaged the talks in Switzerland that led to the resolution.
In December 2009, an anonymous senior US official announced that a meeting by the P5+1 (including the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) on Iran’s nuclear program had been canceled due to China’s opposition, though the remaining five still planned to talk by conference call.  In late December, representatives from Great Britain, along with other P5+1 members, adjourned their telephone consultation about Iran’s nuclear program but did not announce when they will ask the UNSC to consider measure to increase pressure on Iran. U.S. ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said it was premature to discuss possible new sanctions, but the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany were mulling “a range of alternatives.”
In the early part of January 2010, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki warned the West that it had one month to accept Iran’s counterproposal to the October UN offer, after which time Iran would enrich its stockpile of low enriched uranium to 20 percent, though it is unclear if it has the technical ability to accomplish this task. Although Mottaki did not say exactly the terms of Iran’s counter offer, in the past Iran has suggested a simultaneous uranium swap either on Iranian territory or in Turkey, though the West rejected this offer because it would not delay Iran’s ability to produce a weapon, should it choose to do so. Mottaki’s comments were broadcast on state television and presented as an ultimatum to the West just two days after Iran missed a deadline set by the United States and its allies to accept the October UN deal.
In mid-January 2010, the P5+1 (including the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) agreed that the Iranian response to proposals to altering its nuclear development program had been inadequate and that it warranted consideration of further measures by the United Nations Security Council. In spite of this negative response from the P5+1, a couple days later, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki announced that he saw signs of progress, stating that, “there are some minor signs indicating a realistic approach, so any probable developments or progress can be discussed later.” Soon thereafter, UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband denied any split with China over the Iran nuclear program and suggested that Britain supported more financial sanctions against Tehran. Iran’s failure to respond positively to the six powers’ overtures or to a proposal to trade Iran’s low-enriched uranium in return for medical reactor fuel “means we do have to look at a sanctions package,” Miliband said.
In early February 2010, Western diplomats told Reuters that officials at the US State Department have circulated a paper outlining possible new sanctions to senior foreign ministry officials in London, Paris, and Berlin, as the US, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany are working to blacklist Iran’s central bank and firms linked to the Revolutionary Guard Corps. These countries are hoping to reach an agreement with Russia and China by the end of February.
In March 2010, British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, visited Beijing to lobby for further nuclear sanctions on Iran. Miliband’s visit is a further step in the push by Britain, the U.S. and others to persuade China to drop its opposition to a fourth round of sanctions to pressure Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program. Soon thereafter, a New York Times article reported that China showed no sign of throwing its support behind new sanctions against Iran following talks with Britain’s foreign minister. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi maintained that sanctions were not the solution to disagreements over Iran’s nuclear program and that more talks were the way forward.
Also in March, Senior British Foreign Office Official Nicholas Hopton gave a ‘very direct message’ pressuring Brazil to drop its support of Iran and back sanctions against Tehran in the UN Security Council vote. Hopton argued that “this is a crucial moment for Brazil to stand up and be counted and show that it is ready to take on the responsibilities of a Security Council member and to take the difficult decision to support sanctions.”
In early April, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met to discuss the Iranian nuclear program and new sanctions. Brown’s office said, “There was strong support from both leaders for sanctions and agreement on the continued need to engage with international partners on the issue.” This came just after senior diplomats from Britain, the U.S., France, Germany, Russia, and China agreed to press for a new round of sanctions.
On April 14, 2010, the P5+1, that is the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany, held a second round of talks concerning new sanctions against Iran for its refusal of negotiations pertaining to Tehran’s nuclear program. Russian and Chinese United Nations ambassadors both expressed a high level of constructive consultation, and noted that there would be more talks in the near future.
In May 2010, the P5+1, that is Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, and the U.S., reached a new agreement regarding sanctions against Iran. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described this agreement as a “strong draft” of a resolution. The new agreement, with the change in Russian and Chinese decision to sign on to a new round of sanctions, came after Turkey and Brazil brokered a nuclear swap deal with Iran. The Turkey-Brazil proposal would allow Iran to enrich uranium at a considerably high level of purity, that is, higher than levels permitted by international law.
In late June 2010, during G-8 talks when world leaders met in Ontario, the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States issued a statement concerning Iran’s nuclear program: “We are profoundly concerned by Iran’s continued lack of transparency regarding its nuclear activities and its stated intention to continue and expand enriching uranium, including to nearly 20 percent.”
Like much of the EU, the UK has reduced its official economic relations with Iran due to UN sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program. According to British diplomats in Tehran, the UK has cut its trade section in its Tehran embassy significantly. In addition, the European Union has imposed further sanctions against Iran’s Bank Melli for its support of Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities.  Despite these activities, Iranian officials have claimed that Iran’s trade volume with the UK has increased from $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion between 2006 and 2007. Though the British government has supported sanctions against Iran and curtailed official cooperation with the Islamic Republic, British companies still have significant business ties with Iran, particularly in the oil and natural gas industries.  The United Kingdom also attended the Iranian gas forum in Tehran on September 26-27, 2009 with Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, and Malaysia.
In March 2010, Lloyd’s Market Association (LMA) announced that “London’s marine insurance market has added Iran to a list of areas deemed high risk ahead of possible U.S.-based sanctions.” LMA Secretary Neil Roberts said, “the reason [Iran has] been added is that underwriters are mindful of possible U.S. sanctions against the country and really need to have a good idea of their exposures and the trade they are covering.”
In May 2010, British aviation company Balli Aviation Limited pled guilty to illegally exporting Boeing aircraft to Iran and were ordered to pay a total of $17 million in civil penalties. The US District Court in Washington DC also placed Balli Aviation Limited on corporate probation, denying the firm their export privileges for five years.
In early July 2010, following the previously mentioned announcement in March, Lloyd’s of London announced that it would restrict cover for ships carrying petroleum to Iran. This decision is a result of compliance with the rules of the U.S. sanctions, which are catered to companies providing Iran with business opportunities in the petroleum industry.
Most of the United Kingdom’s recent relations with the Islamic Republic have consisted of multilateral attempts to secure a diplomatic resolution to the international conflict over Iran’s nuclear program. Britain’s attempts began in earnest in 2003, when it, along with France and Germany, proposed a series of economic and political incentives for Iran to stop its nuclear enrichment and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency.  Although Great Britain has continued to advocate a diplomatic resolution to the conflict, it has voted in favor of UNSC sanctions against Iran as well as additional sanctions enacted by the European Union.  According to UK Ambassador to the UN Sir John Sawers in February 2009, “the Iranian’s wanted to be able to to strike a deal, whereby they stopped killing our forces in Iraq in return for them being allowed to carry on with their nuclear program.” The UK rejected the deal and has continued to offer economic incentives through the UN Security Council to induce Iran to suspend its enrichment processes until a diplomatic resolution to can be reached. In February 2009, the UK suspended the activities of its cultural office in Iran, saying that the Iranian authorities had used unacceptable harassment and intimidation tactics on its representatives. Besides sporting events and cultural ties, the UK currently cooperates very little with the Islamic Republic, according to the British Foreign Office. 
In June 2009, following large street protest in the wake of the 2009 Iranian presidential election, the Iranian government accused the United Kingdom of instigating the protests, with Iranian Intelligence Minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje'i saying that “the British Embassy sent its local staff to rallies and inculcated ideas into the protestors and the society;” British Foreign Secretary David Milband denied these allegations, saying that "[t]he 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. “
On June 22, 2009, Iran expelled two British diplomats from the British Embassy in Tehran, claiming they were “involved in activities incompatible with their status.” The next day, the United Kingdom responded by expelling two Iranian diplomats. Later that month, Iranian security forces arrested nine local employees of the British Embassy in Tehran. Iran subsequently released five of those who had been arrested, however continued questioning the remaining four. Milband responded to the arrests by saying that "The United Kingdom is deeply concerned at the arrest and, in some cases, continued detention of some of our hard-working, locally engaged staff in Tehran…This is harassment and intimidation of a kind which is quite unacceptable.” On June 29, 2009, European Union member states collectively threatened to withdraw their ambassadors from Iran if Tehran refuses to release the four remaining British embassy employees detained by the government. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hassan Qashqavi responded in a statement, denying rumors that Iran planned to cut ties with any European nation, saying that the "shutting down of any embassy or downgrading of diplomatic ties with any country is not on Iran's agenda at the moment…the Islamic Republic has no plans for lowering its ties with any European state, including Britain.”
In June 2009, the Group of Eight (G8), of which the United Kingdom is a part, held a meeting in Trieste, Italy to discuss security in Pakistan and Afghanistan. At the meeting, the G8 demanded “that violence [in Iran]…cease immediately” and called upon Iran to find peaceful solutions to the political crisis. On July 1, 2009, three of the four remaining local employees of the British Embassy detained by Iranian security forces were reportedly released, leaving the embassy’s chief political analyst, Hossein Rassam, still in custody; Iran described Rassam as being a major player in the street protests that followed the 2009 Iranian presidential election. In July 2009, the head of the Guardian Council, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, said that “the people from the British Embassy who were behind the recent riots were arrested and they will definitely be tried.” Miliband reiterated the UK’s position that the embassy “staff have not engaged in any improper or illegal behavior.” On July 3, 2009, British and Czech calls for European Union members to temporarily recall their ambassadors from Iran were rejected by Germany and Italy, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying that G8 members should instead send a “strong signal” to the Iranian government and expressed hope that “the [July 2009 G8] meeting [in Italy] sends a strong message of unity, a united message that the right to demonstrate and human rights cannot be separated and that they apply to Iran.” According to one EU diplomat, speaking in July 2009 of possible responses to the diplomatic row with Iran, the EU is “taking things step by step” and is “waiting for an Iranian response." Proposed EU measures include a visa ban on Iranian diplomats and a coordinated summons of Iran’s ambassadors in Europe.
In July 2009, French President Nicolas Sarkozy backed the United Kingdom’s calls for firm EU action, arguing that a strong response was required “so that Iranian leaders will really understand that the path that they have chosen will be a dead end." On July 3, 2009, the Iranian government formally filed charges against Hossein Rassam; he was charged with “acting against national security.” In a July 4, 2009 statement, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said that the European Union decided to collectively summon Iran’s ambassadors in Europe in response to the arrest of British Embassy employees in Tehran. Bildt added that the EU’s “escalatory approach to Iran was working,” claiming that the release of several of the arrested staff members was a result of its policy. In July 2009, the EU described the Iranian decision to try at least one embassy employee as “not acceptable.” For Iran’s part, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said that "naturally [the arrested staff members] will be put on trial, they have made confessions…in these incidents, their embassy had a presence, some people were arrested." Iranian authorities released Rassman on July 19, 2009, after he posted more than $100,000 bail.
In July 2009, the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee reported that the country’s ambassador to the UK, Morteza Sarmadi, would be asked to speak before the Iranian committee to discuss Britain’s role in the unrest that followed President Ahmadinejad’s re-election. On July 11, 2009, Iranian MP Jabbar Kouchaki Nejad urged Tehran to expand its confrontation with London. Nejad argued that the UK has continually tried to harm the Islamic Republic and that standing up to Britain would “give a lesson to other interfering states.” Another Iranian MP, Behrouz Jafari, stated during an August 2009 parliamentary session that “the foreign ministry should reconsider its relations with the British government." Adding to the anti-British voices, President Ahmadinejad staunchly criticized the United Kingdom during an August 16, 2009 conference, stating that “[i]n the last 30 years you [Britain] supported any voice against Iran and now you have openly interfered in the Iranian nations affairs. If the enemies do not stop interfering, the Iranian nation will react firmly.”
In November 2009, after the US accused Iran of violating a U.N. arms embargo by secretly sending weapons to Syria in a cargo ship seized by Israel, Britain expressed serious concern in the U.N. Security Council for suggestions that Iran was caught illegally exporting weapons, but said it was waiting for more information about the ship’s origin, destination, cargo and seizure. Though Israel has not provided documentary evidence to back its claim that 36 containers of weapons hidden among hundreds of containers of civilian cargo on the Francop, Britain’s deputy ambassador Philip Parham told reporters that the Francop appears to be the third case of illegal Iranian arms exports this year.
Later that month, a group of British yachtsmen were held briefly by Iran after their boat crossed into Iranian waters. News of the men’s capture soon after a defiant announcement from Iran that it was boosting it uranium enrichment work briefly raised the prospect of a tense standoff between London and Tehran and the price of oil spiked as British diplomats worked to discover where and under what circumstances the men were being held. The sailors were released less than a week after the incident and one of the crewmembers claimed that there was no animosity between them and the elite Revolutionary Guard’s Navy at all.
In February 2010, Iran cut ties with the British Museum in protest to its repeated delays to loan Tehran an ancient Persian treasure, the Cyrus Cylinder. A senior official at Iran’s Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization, Hassan Mohseni, said “we confirm the cutting of ties and we consider it a closed chapter.” He also announced the British Museum would not pay any further official visits to Iran following the cut in relations.
Later that month, Iranian officials hailed the capture of a Sunni rebel leader, Abdolmalek Rigi of Jundallah (a militant group that claims to be defending Sunni Muslims in Iran’s southeast) as a major antiterrorist coup and claimed the arrest was a victory over Britain, the United States, and Israel. Iranian Intelligence Minister, Heidar Moslehi said that Rigi was at an American base 24 hours before his capture and that the US had arranged a forged Afghan passport for him. Britain, Israel, and the US deny providing any support to Jundallah.
In March 2010, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said that there will be changes in the realm of “education and universities,” as Iran plans to reduce its cultural relations with Britain. This announcement came just after British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called Iran’s nuclear program a “real threat” to international security.
In June 2010, the Iranian Foreign Ministry requested the presence of the British ambassador in order to criticize alleged British support for an opposition group known as the Mujahedeen Khalq. Iran claims to have arrested members of the Mujahedeen Khlaq and accused them of planning terrorist activities. However, a spokeswoman at the British Foreign Office denied the accusations and the opposition group denied that any of its members were arrested in Tehran.
In July 2010, the Sunni rebel group known as Jundallah (Soldiers of God) claimed responsibility for attacks carried out by two suicide bombers at a Shiitte mosque in the Iranian town of Zahedan, killing 28 people and injuring hundreds. Zahedan is the capital of the Sistan-Baluchistan province in southeastern Iran and the majority of the population there are Sunni Baluchis. Jundallah said it “carried out the attacks to avenge the execution of its militant leader Abdolmalek Rigi in Tehran’s Evin prison on June 20… [and it is] fighting for the rights of the Sunnie Baluchis.” Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced shortly after the attacks targeting Iran was the work of “the spy services of the US and Zionist regimes, and Britain who wanted to push it into religious unrest and into a Shiite-Sunni conflict.”