LONDON (AP) - Britain ordered all Iranian diplomats out of the U.K. within 48 hours and shuttered its ransacked embassy in Tehran on Wednesday, in a significant escalation of tensions between Iran and the West.
The ouster of the entire Iranian diplomatic corps deepens Iran's international isolation amid growing suspicions over its nuclear program. At least four other European countries also moved to reduce diplomatic contacts with Iran.
The British measures were announced by Foreign Secretary William Hague, who said Britain had withdrawn its entire diplomatic staff after angry mobs stormed the British Embassy compound and a diplomatic residence in Tehran, hauling down Union Jack flags, torching a vehicle and tossing looted documents through windows.
The hours-long assault Tuesday was reminiscent of the chaotic seizure of the U.S. Embassy in 1979. Protesters replaced the British flag with a banner in the name of a 7th-century Shiite saint, Imam Hussein, and one looter showed off a picture of Queen Elizabeth II apparently taken off a wall.
"The idea that the Iranian authorities could not have protected our embassy or that this assault could have taken place without some degree of regime consent is fanciful," Hague told lawmakers in the House of Commons.
The diplomatic fallout from the attack quickly spread to other Western countries with embassies in Iran. Norway announced it was temporarily closing its embassy as a precaution, and Germany, France and the Netherlands all recalled their ambassadors for consultations. Italy said it was considering such a recall.
Iran currently has 18 diplomats in Britain. About 24 British Embassy staff and dependents were based in Tehran.
The White House condemned the attacks, and spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. backed Britain's ejection of Iranian diplomats.
European Union foreign ministers were to meet Thursday to consider possible new sanctions against Tehran.
France's budget minister, Valerie Pecresse, said the EU should consider a total embargo on Iranian oil or a freeze on Iranian central bank holdings. British officials said the U.K. would likely support new measures against Iran's energy sector.
Hague claimed those involved in Tuesday's attack were members of a student group allied with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's paramilitary Basij organization, which recruits heavily on university campuses.
"We should be clear from the outset that this is an organization controlled by elements of the Iranian regime," he said.