Tehran votes to expel Britain's ambassador
Dominic Chilcott, who took up the position of ambassador just a month ago, could be forced to leave the country within weeks after a motion to downgrade Iran's diplomatic ties with Britain was passed overwhelmingly by the Islamist republic's parliament.
The step was taken after Britain, Canada and the United States announced fresh sanctions against Iran last week in the wake of a report by UN weapons inspectors which provided the most compelling case yet that Tehran is trying to build a nuclear bomb.
Britain was singled out, however, after it became the first state to impose direct sanctions on Iran's central bank. Financial institutions in the City were also banned from doing business with their Iranian counterparts.
Despite pressure from Israel, Washington has baulked at following suit, arguing that such a step would cause deep financial pain for ordinary Iranians and could cause the price of oil to soar. If its central bank faced widespread international sanctions, Iran would find it virtually impossible to import and export oil, food and other commodities except on the black market.
It is the first time in the UK's postwar history that Britain has imposed a total boycott on the entire banking industry of a foreign state.
Iranian MPs were incandescent in their fury towards Britain, known by many in Iran as "the Old Fox". After announcing that the motion had been carried by 171 votes to three, Ali Larijani, the hawkish speaker, warned that even tougher penalties would be imposed on Britain, saying: "this is just the beginning of the road."
The resolution, which declared the British government to be "worse than the devil", must now be approved by Iran's Guardian Council. It is unlikely that the body's spiritual elders, whose main role is to ensure that legislation cannot be deemed un-Islamic, would block the move.
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