June 14, 2012 / 3:32 PM / 5 years ago

UK, Iran foreign ministers hold first talks since embassy attack

KABUL (Reuters) - British Foreign Minister William Hague met his Iranian counterpart on Thursday on the margins of a conference in Kabul, the highest level diplomatic contact since the storming of the British embassy in Tehran late last year.

The British Foreign Office said the meeting with Ali Akbar Salehi took place at the Iranian’s request and the two sides discussed Iran’s nuclear negotiations as well as the situation in Syria.

Iranian protesters broke into two British diplomatic compounds in Tehran in November, ransacking offices and burning British flags in protest against new sanctions imposed by Britain on Iran.

The incident sparked a major row between the two countries, with Britain shutting its embassy in Tehran before Hague expelled all Iranian diplomats from London, saying there had been “some degree of regime consent” in the attack.

During their discussions in Kabul, the two sides said they hoped to move toward confirming the appointment of third states to represent their interests in each others’ capitals.

Hague also told Salehi the six world powers negotiating Iran’s nuclear program were sincere and united in the approach to these discussions, the statement said.

At their meeting in Baghdad last month, the group had offered a credible proposal, Hague said, in which Iran would stop production of high-grade uranium, close an underground facility where such work is done and ship any stockpile out of the country.

In return, they offered to supply it with fuel for a reactor in Tehran, which requires 20 percent uranium, and to ease sanctions against the sale of parts for commercial aircraft to Iran.

CONCRETE STEPS

No agreement was reached in Baghdad but Iran and the six countries - United States, China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain - agreed to continue discussions on June 18 and 19 in Moscow.

“The onus now was on Iran to respond in concrete terms. If Iran took concrete steps, the international community would reciprocate,” the Foreign Office statement said.

The two men also discussed Syria, and Hague urged Iran to use its influence to help implement a ceasefire plan by international mediator Kofi Annan.

Diplomatic relations between Britain and Iran have been virtually non-existent since the embassy storming.

At the time, Hague said the majority of those involved in the assault were members of the Basij - a paramilitary volunteer group loyal to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry expressed regret for the attack but says it indicated deep anger among the Iranian people over Britain’s historical treatment of the country.

Additional reporting by Marcus George and Isabel Coles; Editing by Sophie Hares

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