Ali Bahadori Jahromi, the spokesperson for the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, held a press conference at the former US embassy building in Tehran on October 31, with the national coat of arms of the United States above his head.
The unusual move did not reflect the political prestige and dignity of the government.
But this is not the sole issue raised by the presence of an Islamic Republic official in the premises of the former American diplomatic mission.
The embassy, despite the termination of diplomatic relations between the two nations in April 1980, is still considered US property, and under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the premises of a diplomatic mission “shall be inviolable.”
The US embassy was initially occupied by non-state actors – revolutionary students associated with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – starting on November 4, 1979. Fifty-two US diplomats and citizens were held hostage there for 444 days.
Subsequently, the embassy was illegally occupied by the Islamic Republic government.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands, held Khomeini responsible for prohibiting Iranian officials from engaging with their American counterparts to put an end to the embassy’s occupation.
The ICJ ordered the end of this occupation and the release of the hostages.
While the Americans were released on January 20, 1981, the embassy remained under the occupation of the Islamic Republic.
Despite the ruling by the ICJ, Iran has not taken action to end this occupation.
The US embassy in Tehran is currently occupied by members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the paramilitary Basij force. But from a legal point of view, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran bears responsibility for the continued occupation of the compound.
The presence of the Iranian government’s spokesperson at the US embassy and his news conference on American property in Tehran can be subject to protest by the Biden administration.
Following the severing of diplomatic relations with Iran, the United States seized the Iranian embassy in Washington and 13 of its consulates, but it did not transfer ownership to the United States.
In April 1980, when the United States terminated diplomatic ties with Tehran, it sealed Iran's diplomatic facilities in the United States and seized the bank accounts associated with the embassy.
Funds held in these bank accounts were deposited into an account managed by the Treasury Department.
While the Islamic Republic confiscated the US embassy in Tehran, the United States "sealed" the Iran’s embassy in Washington and preserved its property, including valuable carpets and other exquisite Iranian artifacts that once adorned its halls.
The United States also undertook repairs to the embassy building to counteract the effects of the passage of time, with the expenses being covered by the aforementioned bank account.
The US government could have seized Iran's diplomatic properties in the United States, which hold equivalent value to that of the American embassy property in Tehran.
For political reasons, it has refrained from doing so for the past 44 years, opting for a diplomatic approach.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson of the Islamic Republic's government conducts press conferences on US property, making statements on behalf of Iran under the official emblem of the United States.
Although the Islamic Republic has lost most of its domestic and international legitimacy, the spokesperson of its government is still regarded as a high-ranking government official.
The presence of such an official in the former US embassy in Tehran is akin to unauthorized intrusion into American property, and it shows that the Islamic Republic continues to illegally occupy the diplomatic compound and to ignore the ICJ ruling.
The US government can formally protest against this behavior and call for the enforcement of the court judgment by the Iranian government.