Iran summons UK ambassador over his ‘illegal’ presence at protests

By Gavin Cordon, PA Whitehall Editor

Britain’s ambassador in Iran has been summoned to explain his “illegal and inappropriate presence” at an anti-government protest, the Iranian foreign ministry has said.

Rob Macaire was called in to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after being arrested by police on Saturday as demonstrations broke out in Tehran over the downing of a Ukrainian airliner by Iranian forces.

The move threatened to further escalate the diplomatic row between London and Tehran after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab denounced Mr Macaire’s detention as a “flagrant violation” of international law.

Dozens of Iranian hard-liners were reported to have gathered outside the British embassy, chanting “Death to England” and calling for the ambassador to be expelled.

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Earlier, Mr Macaire denied he had been taking part in the demonstrations. He said he been attending a vigil for the victims of Flight PS752, when protests broke out and he left.

“Can confirm I wasn’t taking part in any demonstrations! Went to an event advertised as a vigil for victims of PS752 tragedy,” he tweeted.

“Normal to want to pay respects- some of victims were British. I left after five minutes, when some started chanting.”

Mr Macaire said that he was arrested 30 minutes after leaving the area, although he was later released.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency said he was one of a number of people arrested outside the Amir Kabir University on suspicion of organising, provoking and directing radical actions.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs later said on its Telegram channel that he had been summoned over his “illegal and inappropriate presence” at the protests.

The Foreign Office confirmed that Mr Macaire had been called in.

He was said to have protested strongly that his detention had been unjustified and that it was “completely  untrue” to say he  had been involved in the protests.

The authorities in Iran were on standby for further demonstrations after the Revolutionary Guard admitted accidentally shooting down the Ukrainian jet with the loss of all 176 people on board.

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Earlier deputy foreign minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi said police had been unaware Mr Macaire was a diplomat when he was held as an “unknown foreigner”.

He said that once he was able to speak to Mr Macaire on the telephone and confirm that he was the ambassador, he was released within 15 minutes.

“He wasn’t detained, but arrested as unknown foreigner in an illegal gathering,” he tweeted.

“When police informed me a man’s arrested who claims to be UK ambassador, I said IMPOSSIBLE!

“Only after my phone conversation with him I identified, out of big surprise, that it’s him. Fifteen minutes later he was free.”

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has joined with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a fresh appeal to Tehran to return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal.

In a joint statement, the three leaders said they remained committed to the agreement – under which  Iran is supposed to curb its nuclear weapons programme in return for the easing of international sanctions – despite the withdrawal of the United States.

They said there was a need “to define a long-term framework” for Iran’s nuclear programme and that they stood ready to engage with Tehran in order to maintain the stability of the region.

“Despite increasingly difficult circumstances, we have worked hard to preserve the agreement” the statement said.

“It is essential that Iran return to full compliance with its commitments under the agreement.

“We have expressed our deep concern at the actions taken by Iran in violation of its commitments since July 2019. These actions must be reversed.”