Iran rejects British choice of ambassador

Nominee is called a Jew, security agency member


LONDON - Iran has turned down Britain's choice of ambassador to Tehran after hard-line newspapers there accused him of being "a Jew and a member of MI6," the British foreign intelligence agency.

Britain retaliated last night by downgrading the status of the Iranian envoy in London and placing relations with Tehran on a "more critical" basis.

The confrontation represented a serious setback to Britain's efforts in recent months to thaw relations between Iran and the West. The two countries exchanged ambassadors in July 1999, after a decade-long break, and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has visited Tehran twice since Sept. 11, seeking help for the anti-terror coalition in Afghanistan and trying to capitalize on the Iranians' opposition to the Taliban regime.

The Foreign Office denied the claims about its nominee, David Reddaway, 48. In a statement, it said that he was "exceptionally well qualified for the job" and asserted that Britain would not present another candidate. Reddaway has served twice in Tehran, is married to an Iranian and speaks Persian. He is not Jewish.

"This does not mean a complete reversal of our policy of critical engagement, which by its nature is bound to be difficult, but it will not help," the statement said. "It does mean our bilateral dialogue will inevitably become more critical."

Hamid Reza Asefi, spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, expressed surprise at Britain's reaction, telling Iran's news agency IRNA, "Whether or not to accept the ambassador proposed by a country is the natural right of the host country. This is not an unprecedented affair. It has happened many times in the diplomatic relations of various countries without overshadowing their ties."

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