British diplomat to visit Iran for first time in two years

DUBAI (REUTERS) - Britain's newly-appointed envoy will travel to Iran on Tuesday, the first diplomatic visit by a British official since its embassy in Teheran was stormed more than two years ago.

The election of a relative moderate, President Hassan Rouhani, has paved the way for a thaw in ties between the two countries. London announced the appointment of Mr Ajay Sharma as its charge d'affaires in November.

"In the first step, the British non-resident charge d'affaires will travel to Teheran on Tuesday with a delegation to visit (diplomatic) facilities in the country and have talks with officials at the Foreign Ministry," Mohammad Habibullah Zadeh, his Iranian counterpart, was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA. Mr Habibullah said he would then visit London.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Twitter: "Ajay Sharma will make 1st visit to Teheran tomorrow. We'll improve UK-Iran ties on a step-by-step, reciprocal basis." Mr Hague cut direct diplomatic relations with Iran soon after its embassy in Teheran was stormed by activists in November 2011.

British officials accused Iranian authorities of failing in their duties to protect diplomats and their residences which were ransacked and set on fire.