World

EU summons Iranian ambassadors in protest move

Foreign ministries across the 27-nation European Union bloc have summoned Iranian ambassadors to demand the release of British embassy staff in Tehran.

British embassy staff in Iran to face trial, cleric says

Foreign ministries across the 27-nation European Union bloc have summoned Iranian ambassadors to demand the release of British embassy staff in Tehran.

The move, announced in Stockholm, was in response to news Friday by Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of Iran's Guardian Council, that some of the detained embassy staff would be put on trial.

He also accused Britain of playing a role in instigating widespread protests that erupted over the country's disputed presidential election.

Britain had wanted to recall all EU ambassadors from Tehran in a sign of unity, but the bloc decided to gradually increase pressure on Iran, said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency. The EU plans to review the situation next week, Bildt added.

In London, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Britain is "deeply concerned" about the staff members who remain in Iranian detention.

We are "confident that our staff have not engaged in any improper or illegal behaviour," Miliband said in a statement, adding that the ministry was seeking urgent clarification from Iranian authorities and that he would speak with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki about the issue.

The German Foreign Ministry said the arrests violated "diplomatic customs and are aimed not only at Great Britain, but all the EU."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he supported the British request to turn up the heat on the Iranian regime.

"France has always wanted to strengthen the sanctions, so that Iranian leaders will really understand that the path that they have chosen will be a dead end," he said in a joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. "Now it's up to the British to tell us what they need, what help they need.

"Our solidarity with our English friends is total," Sarkozy said.

'They have made confessions'

Speaking at Friday morning prayers, Jannati did not indicate how many staff would be tried and on what charges.

"In these incidents, their embassy had a presence, some people were arrested. Naturally they will be put on trial. They have made confessions."

Jannati told the thousands of worshippers that the British "had designed a velvet revolution… In March, they said [in their Foreign Ministry] that street riots were possible during June elections. These are signs … revealed by themselves."

He also said those involved in protests "need to repent and ask God to forgive them."

Iranian officials said all but one of the nine embassy personnel arrested on June 27 had been released, but the British government said two of the nine were still being held.

The results of the June 12 election showed incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad taking the vote over the challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, 2-1. Those results sparked widespread and often bloody protests across the country, as Mousavi and tens of thousands of supporters took to the streets, accusing the government of widespread fraud.

After ordering a partial recount, Iran's ruling clerics in the powerful Guardian Council declared the results of the election legitimate and called for the cessation of further dissent. Iran has also accused Western powers — mainly Britain and the U.S. — of inciting the protests.

The British Foreign Office said its embassy in Tehran has a staff of more than 100, including at least 70 locally hired Iranians.

With files from The Associated Press