A BRITISH diplomatic compound is close to being seized by the Iranian authorities, one of the country's hardline military commanders has warned.
The Gulhak Gardens is the leafy summer residency for British diplomats – and home to the British Council – in an upmarket suburb of the capital Tehran, several miles north of the main British embassy in the city centre.
Brigadier General Mir-Faisal Baqerzade suggested plans were under way to take back the compound through legal means, rather than a militant-style take over like the US embassy siege of 1979. "Effective measures have been taken to materialise the legitimate right of the Iranian nation and retake the compound," he said.
The same general once said: "If the British Government wants to keep Gulhak, then they should exchange it for Hyde Park."
Last night, the Foreign Office refused to comment as staff in London could not get through to their counterparts in Tehran.
But the timing of his remarks this weekend seemed designed to stoke tensions with London which are already high because of Tehran's threat to put on trial a detained British embassy employee charged with "acting against national security".
Last night, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he was hopeful an eighth British embassy worker would be released by the Iranians. So far, seven have been released, while one more has been threatened with a trial.
Mr Miliband said he felt "cold anger" about the seizure of embassy staff but was trying to focus his energies on securing their release.
He said: "It is very important that my anger, my cold anger about the way our staff have been treated, in this case Iranian citizens, doesn't turn into a rhetorical volley at the Iranian regime because that doesn't do anything either for our people or for reform in Iran. What's important is I turn my anger into determination to see that justice is done by our people."
Meanwhile, it was reported last night that a freelance journalist with joint British and Greek citizenship, Iason Athanasiadis-Fowden has been released. The Foreign Office could not confirm this or another report that another worker had been released.
There are still concerns over the remaining captive, Hossein Rassam, 44, a senior British Embassy employee.