The United Kingdom reopened its embassy in Iran last month in the wake of the nuclear deal struck between Tehran and the P5+1. Amid great fanfare heralding a thaw in diplomatic ties between Iran and Western powers, British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond made his way to Tehran to attend the ceremony that would formally reopen the building – a mere four years after it was closed in far less promising circumstances.
Unlike the US embassy, the British embassy in Iran remained open after the Revolution, finally closing in 2011 after it was attacked by a hardline mob of hundreds. This happened just four years ago, not in 1979. Has Iran, where cries of “Death to America” can still be heard in the streets regularly, really changed so much in four years? Or does the West simply have a short memory?
In the case of the British embassy’s closure and reopening, several signs point to the latter. Even as the embassy was reopened, it became apparent that reminders and remainders of the 2011 mob attack were strewn throughout the building – in fact, they were so conspicuous that some photos of Hammond inaugurating it featured a vandalized photo of the Queen, bearing the inscription “Death to England.”
The irony certainly did not escape the press – even in Iran, where the momentous occasion was described as the reopening of the “Fox’s Den.” In both the UK and US, meanwhile, many of the headlines announcing the embassy’s reopening alluded to its violent past – or at least to its very recent closure.
The BBC, for example, noted in its headline that the Tehran embassy had reopened “four years after closure,” while the US News and World Report chose a similar headline for the AP report it published on the matter. Not to be outdone, The Telegraph led its story on the embassy with the following loquacious headline: “Britain’s embassy in Iran re-opens with ‘Death to England’ still graffitied above Queen’s portrait.” Way to tell it like it is!
Other outlets chose not to go into specifics – inadvertently giving the impression that the reopening was not tinged with the memory of recent violence. The New York Times, for example, chose the neutral headline “British Embassy Reopens in Iran’s Capital”, while The Guardian took a similar tack, writing simply “British embassy in Iran reopens” – though a more detailed allusion to the “storming” of the building by protesters followed.
CNN, meanwhile, proved to be more optimistic, leading its own report with the headline “UK reopens its embassy in Iran as relations warm.” It’s easy to warm up to Iran, we suppose – that is, if you have a selective memory.