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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 21:43 GMT 22:43 UK
UK in new Mid-East row
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Straw congratulated Arafat for his recent ceasefire statement
A row has broken out between Israel and the UK ahead of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's historic visit to Iran.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued an official statement expressing concern over remarks made by Mr Straw that have been published in the Iran press.

They include the words: "One of the factors which helps breed terrorism is the anger which many people in this region feel at events over the years in Palestine".


One of the factors which helps breed terrorism is the anger which many people in this region feel at events over the years in Palestine

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
The term "Palestine" implies an element of statehood which Israel does not recognise.

But a BBC correspondent in Jerusalem says that what has really upset Israeli officials is the implication that Mr Straw blames Israel's policies for attacks on Israelis.

Mr Straw's tour of the Middle East is designed to help revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and to win Iran's support of a global fight against terrorism in the wake of the US attacks.

Iranian President Muhammad Khatami
Straw meets the Iranian president on Tuesday
He has already made a brief stopover in Jordan, where he had talks with King Abdullah II and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whom he congratulated for the ceasefire statement he made four days ago "and the action which he and the Palestine authority have taken since to secure so far as possible, as they see it, a much greater degree of calm".

The foreign secretary, who is visiting Israel on Thursday and Egypt later in the week, has said he will seek ways to help revive Middle East peace negotiations.

'Abominable'

But his remarks in the Iranian press have already brought sharp criticisms from the Israeli media and politicians.

Israel Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh called his remarks "abominable" on Israel radio.

"The journey of the foreign minister who made these statements and is making the trip with the concurrence of the United States, to Tehran, the capital of Iran, is a stab in the back for Israel," Mr Sneh added.

The British Foreign Office later issued a clarification, saying that there can never be any excuse for terrorism, but the Israeli Government said that offence had been taken.

However they affirmed that Britain remains a key ally and Mr Straw's visit will go ahead as planned.

The foreign secretary's visit to the region was sensitive even before the row in Israel.

Iran and the UK have a history of rocky relations and Mr Straw, who is due to arrive in Tehran late on Monday, will be the first UK foreign secretary to visit the country since the Islamic revolution of 1979.

Many reformists in Iran welcomed the visit as a step towards a thaw in relations with the west.

But others believe Mr Straw is simply on a mission on behalf of the US, which still lists Iran as a state that sponsors terrorism and has no official diplomatic links with it.

Mr Straw will hold talks on Tuesday with Iran's President Khatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jim Muir
"Its not yet clear how badly the Americans want Iran on board"
Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw
"Above all, people have to expect a great deal of uncertainty"
See also:

24 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Analysis: Straw's visit divides Iran
17 Sep 01 | Middle East
Iran condemns attacks on US
19 Sep 01 | Middle East
Middle East: Building the coalition
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