Britain, Iran resume full relations

September 28, 1990|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- Britain resumed full diplomatic relations with Iran yesterday, partly to strengthen the Tehran regime's involvement in the U.S.-led international coalition against Iraq.

Ending 18 months of diplomatic stalemate, Britain set aside previous preconditions for a resumption of the relationship, giving priority to reinforcing the United Nations-based solidarity against Iraq.

Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said that since Britain and Iran were "both important members of this coalition, we should have the best possible relations with each other."

Iran broke ties with London in March 1989, after the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher refused to denounce Salman Rushdie's novel "The Satanic Verses."

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini judged the book so blasphemous to Islam as to justify imposition of a religious death sentence on the author.

The British initially made the removal of that death sentence one of the preconditions to resuming full diplomatic relations, but there was no formal agreement yesterday on a reprieve for Mr. Rushdie, who remains in hiding.

London also had demanded the release of a British businessman, Roger Cooper, held in Tehran without trial for almost five years on espionage charges. There was no announcement of his immediate or impending release yesterday.

Announcing the diplomatic re-engagement at the United Nations in New York, Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said the relationship was being restored on the basis of "mutual respect."

The resumption, he said, would enhance the prospects of resolving the outstanding bilateral issues, including the fates of Mr. Rushdie, Mr. Cooper and three British hostages in Lebanon.

Iran's U.N. mission said that the two nations would reopen their embassies in London and Tehran within a month.

In recent weeks, officials in both London and Tehran have signaled their interest in a renewed rapport. They have sought particularly to defuse the Rushdie affair, with Iran indicating it was not intent on pursuing the death sentence and the British expressing increased appreciation of Moslem religious outrage over the book.

The one issue on which there has been little discernible progress is the release of Mr. Cooper. He made a televised confession of espionage, which Iran contends proved his guilt but which British officials and his family assert was extracted under pressure.

Mr. Hurd, in a British Broadcasting Corp. television interview, said it was now clear that Iran was prepared to use its "humanitarian influence" to seek the release of Western hostages in Lebanon. Britain, he added, choosing his words "very carefully in order to keep this process going forward favorably," would "look into" the disappearance of Iranians in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, in a U.S. television interview yesterday, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati struck a tone toward the Persian Gulf crisis that was in close accord with the allies.

He stressed the need to enforce all U.N. resolutions, including the air embargo adopted Tuesday, and said, "If this peaceful settlement doesn't work, I think there is no other way but military solution, unfortunately."

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