Germany, one of Iran’s largest trading partners, recalled its ambassador “for consultations,” as did France, Italy and the Netherlands.
But the main decision on how to respond to the events in Tehran will come Thursday in Brussels, when foreign ministers from the 27-member European Union will hold a scheduled meeting on Iran.
There, options range from reducing embassy staff to withdrawing ambassadors and closing all of the member states’ embassies in the country.
“We are clearly going to see a much tougher stance by the Europeans toward Iran following this event,” said one Tehran-based Western diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “After the Brits were ransacked, the E.U. has no other choice but to stand up against Iran.”
Western diplomats and politicians said that any severing of relations would be a perilous choice for both the European Union and Iran at a time when tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program are high.
But U.S. officials pointed to the potential upside of what they said was a strategic error by Iran to authorize the storming of the British sites.
“There is a strong view that Iran massively overreached,” said an Obama administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the White House’s internal reaction to the events. “Iran has given the international community a condemnable act to rally around.”
Despite the damage to the British sites, some U.S. and European officials consider the exodus of diplomats as an encouraging sign. More than ever, they said, Iran is finding itself with few allies and friends — particularly in the developed world but also among countries traditionally friendly with Iran. Statements by Russia and China denouncing the embassy attack were viewed on Wednesday with particular satisfaction.
“You’re seeing both a chorus of international condemnation as well as actions on the part of countries around the world that I think reflect Iran’s isolation,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.
The immediate diplomatic response remained unclear, however. While legislation that would significantly tighten sanctions on Iran continued to work its way through Congress, the White House was not expected to announce new economic penalties beyond measures adopted in November. But U.S. officials were hopeful that European allies would vote to further sanction Iran at the E.U. meetings on Thursday. The measures under discussion include new curbs on Iran’s petroleum industry.