Captain Moonlight's Notebook

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THERE are times when diplomats, perhaps out of embarrassment, insist on burying their heads in the sand and I fear we are seeing that at the moment at the Iranian embassy at Prince's Gate. Having spotted a very visible symbol of the Shah's empire adorning the embassy's Rolls-Royce as it cruised through Knightsbridge on its way to the Foreign Office I telephoned the mission of the Islamic Republic for an explanation. Did the car with the 'PER 1' number plate (Persia One - wink, wink, nudge, nudge) belong to the embassy? 'Certainly not,' came the reply. 'Our country is called Iran. Persia is an old-fashioned word from another non-revolutionary regime. We have normal diplomatic plates.'

Quite so, I thought, and telephoned the Foreign Office, which confirmed that 'PER 1' belonged to the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

A watcher of diplomatic toings-and- froings tells me the car is for the ambassador and has sat in the garage for much of its Islamic Republican life as a consequence of London's bumpy relations with Tehran. There has been no ambassador in London for four years and when the car is wheeled out it is for special occasions - such as when the charge d'affaires is summoned to the Foreign Office and told off.