Hammond
Philip Hammond says sanctions on Iran could be lifted next yearReuters

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said that sanctions on Iran could be lifted in spring 2016, according to Reuters. The comments came during a visit to Tehran to meet with President Hassan Rouhani and reopen Britain's embassy – which still bear traces of hostility with "Death to England" graffiti scrawled on the wall – almost four years after it was closed.

"We could be talking as early as next spring to start to see sanctions lifting off," Mr Hammond said after he became the first UK foreign secretary to visit Iran since Jack Straw in 2003. He also said that preliminary work should be done to allow investments to flow immediately when sanctions are removed, the news agency said on 24 August.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today Programme earlier, Mr Hammond said that despite a deep legacy of mistrust between the two sides, Iran is too important a player to leave isolated. He was also keen to underline common ground and said that Britain and Iran see "eye to eye" in the battle against the so-called Islamic State.

"We do see eye to eye on the need to challenge Isil, for example, and there are areas where we can work together," he said.

"As we work more closely together in those areas, we will find it easier to have a sensible dialogue about the many areas [in] which we disagree, including human rights in Iran."

Following his meeting with Mr Rouhani, Mr Hammond insisted that the search for an end to the Syrian conflict will include "the two most important and influential players in Syria – Iran and Russia". While acknowledging that crucial differences of opinion remain on Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Mr Hammond asserted that "if you don't talk, you can't make progress – and now we are talking".

Commenting on prospective business between the two countries, Mr Hammond told the BBC: "In all of the meetings we've been to we've heard a consistent message that Iran wants to do business with Britain, that it wants to see a new chapter in our relationship, that Iran will very much be open to British and other foreign businesses in this next phase."

Mr Hammond also said that after meeting with Mr Rouhani, the Iranian president expressed his desire for a new chapter in its relations with Britain and the West.