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Iran envoy to make first London visit as icy relations thaw

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 10:13 AM EST, Wed December 11, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An Iranian envoy is to make his first official visit to London this week
  • The Iranian diplomat's visit follows a trip to Tehran by a UK diplomat last week
  • Relations between the two nations have been icy for the past two years
  • Britain closed its embassy in Iran after it was attacked by protesters in 2011

London (CNN) -- An Iranian envoy is to make his first visit to the United Kingdom this week, a UK Foreign Office spokeswoman said Wednesday, in a sign of softening relations between the two countries.

Mohammad Hassan Habibollahzadeh, the Iranian nonresident charge d'affaires, arrives Thursday and will meet with UK officials at the Foreign Office on Friday, the spokeswoman said.

His trip follows a "successful first visit" to Tehran by the UK nonresident charge d'affaires, Ajay Sharma, last week, she said.

Sharma's visit was the first by a UK diplomat to Iran since 2011, when relations suffered a dramatic breakdown.

In November of that year, an attack on the UK Embassy compound in Tehran by protesters prompted Britain to close the embassy there and withdraw all its staff from Iran. Britain also closed the Iranian Embassy in London and ordered all Iranian diplomats to leave.

The protest in Tehran was sparked by anger at UK sanctions imposed against Iranian institutions over Iran's nuclear program.

Since the election of President Hassan Rouhani this summer, there's been a more positive tone to Iran's interactions with the West.

And Tehran last month agreed to a six-month deal with world powers to limit Iran's nuclear development.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague tweeted Wednesday: "Visit by Iranian Charge follows @AjaySharmaFCO's visit to Iran last week: improving relations on a step-by-step, reciprocal basis."

Iranian state news agency IRNA said Habibollahzadeh would study the state of Iran's diplomatic buildings in London and talk with UK officials about bilateral relations.

The UK Foreign Office said Britain and Iran could now discuss a number of issues, including the conditions for a possible reopening of the countries' embassies.

CNN's Zahra Ullah contributed to this report.

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