Last year, Tehran nominated former deputy foreign minister Mehdi Safari to take up the post but changed its mind in spring, sending him instead to Beijing as ambassador to China, which has emerged as Iran’s principal backer on the world stage.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are aware that Mr Movahedian is leaving, but we have not been made aware of any plans to replace him.”
Iran’s decision not to replace its ambassador follows a year of worsening relations with Britain. Ties have been fraught since the 1979 Islamic revolution, but have plummeted since the disputed presidential election in June last year and the subsequent opposition protest, which Tehran accused Britain of orchestrating.
Iranian staff at the British embassy in Tehran were detained and warned not to return to work. The embassy’s chief political analyst, Hossein Rassam, was sentenced to four years in prison for allegedly fomenting anti-government protests and is now out on bail.
Britain has also been castigated for supporting UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme and there have been calls in the Iranian majlis for bilateral relations to be downgraded.
One of the country’s vice-presidents, Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, last month called the English “a bunch of thick people ruled by a mafia”.
There was no comment today from the Iranian embassy on Movahedian’s replacement. On the embassy website, a folder labelled “bilateral relations” was empty. However, there has been no formal announcement by the Iranian foreign ministry on the status of bilateral ties.
“This could be a bureaucratic blockage that amounts to a decision,” a British diplomatic source said.
“We haven’t heard anything since the Safari debacle. It could be that the president is refusing to agree a replacement for Movahedian, or it could come from the [supreme] leader’s office.”
Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has vitriolic views on Britain. Last summer he triggered a diplomatic incident when he called the UK the “most evil” of Iran’s enemies. Movahedian was summoned to the Foreign Office to hear a formal complaint.
British sources said the failure to replace Movahedian would not have an immediate impact on day-to-day relations because the outgoing ambassador had not been active.
“He does not seem to have been given instructions to do anything. He did not have discretion to say anything and didn’t give interviews or anything like that,” one source said.
“More importantly this could give Tehran a reason to stop us replacing our ambassador in Tehran, Simon Gass, when he is due to leave some two years from now. This could be a downgrading by degrees.”
The UN security council has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran for its refusal to agree to its demands to stop enriching uranium as part of its nuclear programme. Today, Britain’s UN envoy, Mark Lyall Grant, said the west remained “determined to continue to respond robustly to Iran’s refusal to comply with its international obligations”.
Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, shrugged off the sanctions threat, telling NBC News: “We in Iran are in a position to meet our own requirements.” -guardian