Mixed reactions reflect divisions in Iran

Updated: 2011-12-07 14:40


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TEHRAN - After last week's attack on the British embassy in Tehran by some Iranian protesters, Iran's political circles and ordinary citizens have both shown mixed reactions towards the incident.

"Things did get out of hand," Seyed Mohammad Marandi, a research fellow at the Institute of North American and European Studies of Tehran University, told Xinhua, referring to last Tuesday' storming of the British embassy in response to newly imposed sanctions on Iran's central bank.

As relations between Iran and the West deteriorated after the incident, the reactions of Iranian political figures have differed greatly, which analysts said reflected the deep divisions among Iran's political players.

The storming of the British embassy not only tarnished Iran's international image, but also put the Islamic Republic on the defensive.

On the same day following the storming, the Iranian Foreign Ministry expressed "regret" over what it called the "unacceptable" behavior of some of the protesters in front of the British embassy.

Despite Tehran's expression of regret, British Foreign Secretary William Hague ordered the Iranian embassy in London to be closed immediately, and asked all Iranian diplomats to leave Britain within 48 hours.

Following Britain's retaliatory move, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast reiterated Tehran's position on the incident.

"What happened to the British embassy in Tehran was an unpredictable incident, which was followed by the anger of the protesters over the British government's attitude towards Iran," he said, adding that the judiciary was dealing with the violators.

Echoing the Foreign Ministry's position, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a senior Iranian cleric, condemned the storming of the British embassy.

"I openly announce that I am against any attack on the embassies and their occupation in the Islamic Republic," he said.

"I approve legal movements, and this is for the good of the country. I have said that attacking the embassies and their occupation are in fact occupation of the countries. This is illegal," the cleric said.

However, Iran's Majlis (parliament), whose majority are conservatives, reacted differently.

Last Wednesday, Majlis speaker Ali Larijani said the protests in front of the British embassy showed Iranians' dissatisfaction with Britain, which should take the blame for the incident.

Moreover, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the two most powerful figures on Iran's political stage, have so far remained silent.

Their silence indicates the divisions and dilemma facing Iran over the incident, especially after several European Union members temporarily recalled their ambassadors from Tehran to show support for Britain.

If the Iranian leadership decides to respond harshly towards Britain over the incident, relations between Iran and the West will further worsen, and Iran will suffer as a result, observers said.

Yet, if Iranian leaders choose to acknowledge that attacking the British embassy was wrong, the country's hardliners will be disappointed, they said.

Outside of political circles, ordinary Iranians also had different opinions on the incident.

"The protests were people's demands. People were angry about Britain's actions. Regarding every measure that the United States takes against Iran, we can see the shadow of Britain," an Iranian who asked not to be named told Xinhua.

Another Iranian, who identified himself as Ali, expressed disagreement over the storming of the British embassy.

"In my opinion, we could have done it in a better way, through dialogue, without attacking the embassy. We could expel the British (diplomats) in a peaceful way," he said.

Experts said the storming of the British embassy gave the West a hard-won excuse to further sanction and isolate Iran, and if Iran does not soften its positions on issues including its controversial nuclear program, relations between Iran and the West would further sour.

Nevertheless, Iran is unlikely to make concessions to the West.

"If you back down against the West, they will only demand more. And, therefore, there is really no use in giving concessions to Western countries under such circumstances," Marandi of Tehran University said.

"In the coming months and years, the situation between Iran and Western countries will continue to be poor," he said. "I think (Iran-West) relations are deteriorating further."