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UK's William Hague says 'circumstances are right' to re-open embassy in Iran as relations thaw

LONDON - British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Tuesday that "circumstances are right" to reopen Britain's embassy in Iran, which was closed in 2011 after hard-liners overran the building and ransacked it.

The announcement, which had been in the works for months as part of a slow rapprochement between the two wary countries, comes during a pronounced thaw between Iran and the West in recent days. American officials are also looking for common ground with Iran as they seek ways to quell mounting violence in Iraq.

Hague told Parliament in a written statement he is satisfied British embassy personnel would be safe in the Iranian capital, Tehran, and that diplomats would be allowed to work without hindrance.

He said "a range of practical issues" have to be resolved before the embassy can begin operations again and full consular services would not be offered at first.

"It is our intention to re-open the embassy in Tehran with a small initial presence as soon as these practical arrangements have been made," he said. "Inevitably, the initial embassy presence will only able to offer a limited range of services at first. For the time being, Iranians will still need to apply in Abu Dhabi or Istanbul for visas for travel to the U.K. "

Britain and Iran have been in contact in recent days because of shared concerns over mounting violence in Iraq. Iran has sent military officers to Iraq to help co-ordinatedefences. Britain is sending humanitarian aid to refugees.

Hague said he spoke with Iran's foreign minister Saturday about taking more steps to improve relations.

Hague's announcement is part of a gradual improvement in relations between the two countries since moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani came to power in August. Prime Minister David Cameron spoke with Rouhani by telephone in November, marking the first such contact between the two countries in more than a decade.

In February, Iran partially reopened its embassy in Britain, offering consular services only. Hague said he expects Iran's government to "take steps" to expand its embassy operation in London.

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