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The BBC's Bridget Kendall
"Even two years ago this visit would have been thought impossible"
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Dr Reza Ghefari and Donald Anderson
The debate over Dr Kharrazi's visit
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Diplomatic correspondent James Robbins
"Britain's relations with Iran have been improving steadily"
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Tuesday, 11 January, 2000, 00:00 GMT
Iranian minister shrugs off protests

protest Protesters gathered outside Downing Street

Iran's foreign minister has shrugged off protests which have been dogging his bridge-building visit to London.

On the opening day of his two-day trip, Dr Kamal Kharrazi met both Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.

However, his stay has been marked by noisy demonstrations by human rights protesters - some throwing eggs at ministerial cars.

blair Tony Blair welcomed Dr Kharrazi to Number 10

Secretary of the Iranian Women's Association Laila Jazayeri said she had thrown two eggs filled with orange paint at Dr Kharrazi's car.

She was held for two hours by the police at Charing Cross Station before being released.

She said: "We wanted to show it is wrong for the government to welcome these criminals to Britain.

"These are people involved in the murder and the oppression of Iranian women.

"Outside Iran they talk about moderation and try to show another face but a dragon does not give birth to a dog. They are all criminal Mullahs."

'Right to protest'

Dr Kharrazi said he accepted that people had a legitimate right to demonstrate.

Speaking before talks with Mr Cook, he said: "This is a legitimate right of people who are not involved in terrorist activities to express themselves."

Dr Kharrazi's trip is the first such high-level visit since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Mr Blair's official spokesman said Britain hoped Dr Kharrazi's visit would contribute to the process of Iran's reintegration into the international community.

The visit was "about trying to develop a new relationship and rapport", he said.

But he added that the UK remained concerned about human rights issues in Iran and that this was being raised in the talks.

The Labour chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Donald Anderson MP, also defended the visit.

He said that although Iran still had continuing internal problems, there had also been change.

"I think the real question is has there been significant movement? We must answer Yes, over the past two years," he said.

'Foreign policy farce'

But a spokeswoman for one of the protest groups, the Worker-Communist Party of Iran Azam Kamguian, condemned the UK government for welcoming the Iranian minister.

cook The Iranian foreign minister also met his British counterpart

"Kharrazi is the representative of a regime whose record includes over 100,000 executions, torture, imprisonment and destitution," she said.

She added: "Robin Cook has shown what a farce is his motto of a fair foreign policy when he is hosting the representative of such a government that still today does not consider state terrorism as a crime."

She added: "We condemn these actions of the British Government, and their efforts to prolong the shameful existence of the inhuman Islamic regime of Iran. Kharrazi and other representatives of the Islamic Republic must be tried for the crimes which they have committed against humanity."

Visit follows Rushdie breakthrough

The arrival of Dr Kharrazi in London followed the breakthrough in relations between Iran and the UK 18 months ago, when the two countries agreed to differ over the Salman Rushdie affair and to put it behind them.

The late Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa on the British author of The Satanic Verses cannot be rescinded, but the Iranian government has made it clear it has no intention of doing anything to carry it out.

Earlier this year, the two countries finally upgraded relations to full ambassadorial level.

Monday's meeting with Mr Blair concentrated on the Middle East peace process, drugs and weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Blair also sought assurances on Iran's commitment to uphold Mr Rushdie's safety.

It is expected that Mr Cook will reciprocate Dr Kharrazi's visit by going to Iran in the spring.

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See also:
18 Jul 99 |  Middle East
British envoy takes up Iran posting
24 Sep 98 |  World
Decade of soured relations ends
21 Sep 99 |  UK Politics
Cook to visit Iran
09 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Khatami allies barred from election

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