Britain and Iran reopened embassies in each other’s capitals on Sunday. This landmark move comes nearly 4 years after the British embassy in Tehran was stormed and ransacked by protesters, leading to its closure. In the angry aftermath Britain also closed the Iranian Embassy in London and ordered all Iranian diplomats to leave. But bilateral ties have improved since then, and last June Britain announced it would like to reopen its embassy in Tehran.
Visibly, the decision to reopen embassies was prompted by the nuclear agreement reached between Iran and the “P5+1” world powers (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) in July. The yet-to-be formalized deal still faces some vocal domestic opposition, particularly within the U.S. and Iran. However, as Iran nears a return to the international community — and has sanctions against it lifted, possibly by the end of the year — other countries are cozying up to Tehran in hopes of snapping up economic deals before the competition gets in.
Japan is a prime example, and unlike the U.S. or Britain, it has maintained full diplomatic relations at the embassy-level with Iran. This facilitated the visit by a 60-member Japanese trade delegation to Iran earlier in August. Daishiro Yamagiwa, vice-minister of Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), accompanied by executives from 21 companies, including those of Japan’s oil, gas, steel, and other industries, met top Iranian officials to discuss entering the Iranian market and possible deals. Iranian Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar said Tehran plans to provide subsidies for hybrid cars and electric vehicles to make them widely available, and urged Japanese carmakers to consider building plants in Iran. Government sources reported last week that Japan and Iran will start negotiations on an investment accord once sanctions are lifted.
“Another reason for Yamagiwa’s visit was to avoid being beaten by European and U.S. companies,” said Shigetoshi Ikeyama, a director in METI’s Middle East and Africa division (Senior government ministers from Italy, France, Germany, and Serbia have traveled to Tehran since the July 14 nuclear accord.) Already counting on sanctions being lifted, Iran intends to rebuild its industries and trade relations, and is targeting oil and gas projects worth $185 billion by 2020. Japan is eager to return to investing in the Iranian oil and gas industry, and also increase the amount of oil it imports from Iran.
With embassies reopened, Britain is now poised for a piece of the action.