LONDON – Britain's foreign secretary on Wednesday ordered all Iranian diplomats out of the U.K within 48 hours following attacks on the British embassy and a residential compound in Tehran.
William Hague told the House of Commons that Britain had also pulled its entire diplomatic staff out of Iran for their safety following the violence.
The action marked the largest diplomatic retaliation against Iran since 1979, and follows a souring of relations between Tehran and the West amid deepening suspicions about its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
Mobs hauled down British flags, torched a vehicle, and ransacked offices in Tehran on Tuesday in retaliation for Britain's support of tighter sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.
Hague said the private quarters of staff and Britain's ambassador were trashed, the main embassy office set on fire and personal possessions belonging to British diplomats stolen by a regime-backed Basij militia group.
The scenes were reminiscent of Iranians' seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979.
Hague confirmed that Britain and allies would consider other measures at a European Union foreign ministers meeting scheduled Thursday.
"We should be clear from the outset that this is an organization controlled by elements of the Iranian regime," Hague said. "The idea that the Iranian authorities could not have protected our embassy or that this assault could have taken place without some degree of regime consent is fanciful."
Both France and Germany were likely to take their own diplomatic action following the attacks, Hague said.
About 24 British embassy staff and dependents were based in Tehran. All are adults since Britain will not post diplomats to Iran with small children for security reasons.
Iran's government has expressed regret about the "unacceptable behavior" of protesters, whose attacks began after anti-British demonstrations apparently authorized by authorities.
But Iran's Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said that the "wrath of (students) resulted from several decades of domination-seeking behavior of Britain."
Larijani -- addressing an open session of parliament Wednesday -- also called the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of the embassy attack a "hasty move."
On Sunday, Iran's parliament approved a bill to downgrade relations with Britain, one of America's closest allies with diplomatic envoys in the Islamic Republic.
"We will consider taking some very tough action in response to this completely disgraceful and appalling action by the Iranians," Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers Wednesday, ahead of Hague's statement.