They predicted a marked deterioration in relations after Iran's announcement yesterday that Geoffrey Brammer, a third secretary at the British embassy in Tehran, would have to leave within a month because of 'acts violating diplomatic norms'.
The move came a day after Britain strongly protested to Iran over the detention of Mr Brammer by security officials in Tehran for several hours on 17 June.
The Iranians made the arrest after Mr Brammer arranged to play a game of squash with an Iranian airline pilot. Iranian security alleged he had formed the friendship as part of a plan to spy on Iran, a claim which Britain dismissed as 'nonsense'.
A British source, admitting that 'things like this set back relations,' said a member of staff at the Iranian embassy in London would be expelled once Mr Brammer had left Iran. He said Tehran had refused a British request to withdraw Mr Brammer voluntarily. The question had become a 'struggle between the Intelligence Ministry and Foreign Affairs Ministry in Tehran. Intelligence originally wanted him out on the spot, there and then'.
Mr Brammer's original detention was a key reason for the cancellation of a visit to Tehran last month by David Gore-Booth, the British Assistant Under-Secretary of State for the Middle East. The visit was to have been a reward for Iran's help in securing the release of British hostages in Beirut, and an opportunity to discuss possible upgrading of diplomatic relations.
Britain resumed contacts at charge d'affaires level with Iran nearly two years ago, after they were broken over Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa against Salman Rushdie. The latest development, although not directly linked to the Rushdie affair, 'shows yet again how difficult it is to make progress on the issue', a British diplomat said.
He added: 'We all expected things to improve after the elections to the Majlis (Iranian parliament) in the spring' - in which President Hashemi Rafsanjani's 'pragmatists' gained control. But it was clear Mr Rafsanjani was still having to cater to Iran's hardliners. 'Relations with Britain go right to the heart of this evolution which they're supposed to be having or not having - because of Rushdie, and because we are the next Satan down after America,' the diplomat said.Reuse content