Iran: Tehran and London agree to representation

Iran has agreed with Britain to have other countries' embassies represent the two nations in each other's capitals, Iranian state media reported on Thursday.

British officials were unable to confirm the report.

Both countries shut down their diplomatic missions last year around Britain's prominent participation in efforts by the West to pressure Iran over its nuclear program. Iranian hard-liners stormed Britain's embassy in Tehran in November, and Iranian lawmakers voted to downgrade relations to the level of charge d'affaires from ambassador level.

Iran's Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said in remarks carried by the state IRNA press agency Thursday that the two countries have agreed to have their interests represented by third parties: the Omani Embassy in London will handle Iran's interests, while the Swedish Embassy in Tehran will do the same for Britain.

In London, Britain's Foreign Ministry could not immediately confirm whether the nations had completed an agreement.

Britain's embassy in Tehran has been closed down many times since early 1950s. The two countries have had a history of bitter relations over the past decades on various issues, including the nationalization of Iran's oil industry in the 1950s, the 1979 Islamic revolution and the 1989 fatwa religious ruling issued by late Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordering Muslims to kill British writer Salman Rushdie over his novel "The Satanic Verses."

The current point of contention is Iran's nuclear program. The West suspects Iran of trying to develop weapons technology. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes.

Tehran regularly accuses Britain of meddling in Iran's internal affairs, a charge London denies.

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague met with Salehi on June 14 on the sidelines of an international conference in Kabul, their first talks since the U.K. downgraded ties with Tehran in response to the November storming of the British Embassy.

At the time, Hague said he expected an agreement to be confirmed to allow another European nation to offer consular help to Britons in Iran, as well as carrying out other administrative work on Britain's behalf.

Representatives of Sweden could not immediately be reached for comment.

Efforts to reach the Omani Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Muscat by phone and email were unsuccessful.

Oman keeps a relatively low diplomatic profile, but has been successful in balancing relations between the West and its neighbor Iran.

The sultanate and Iran share control of the Strait of Hormuz, the waterway at the mouth of the Persian Gulf that handles a fifth of the world's oil supply. Oman's ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, was the first foreign leader to visit Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after the Islamic Republic's disputed 2009 election.


Associated Press writer David Stringer in London contributed to this report