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Tuesday, 25 September, 2001, 03:04 GMT 04:04 UK
UK rallies Iran's support
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw arrives in Tehran
The first UK foreign secretary in Tehran since 1979
The UK Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has arrived in Iran on a visit aimed to explore how Iran can help with the international campaign against terrorism.

A few hours before Mr Straw arrived, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said the attacks on New York and Washington should not become the pretext for provoking another catastrophe.

Mr Straw, the first UK foreign secretary to visit Tehran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, will also discuss bilateral relations.

Before arriving, Mr Straw created a row between the UK and Israel, when he suggested that anger over events "in Palestine" helped breed terrorism.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued an official statement expressing concern over Mr Straw's remarks, which appeared in the Iranian press.

The term "Palestine" implies an element of statehood which Israel does not recognise.

The BBC's diplomatic correspondent, Barnaby Mason, says Mr Straw's visit to Tehran comes as the western powers are making a concerted effort to persuade Muslim governments that the coalition against terrorism is directed at fanatics - not at Islam.

Political minefield

Mr Straw arrived in Tehran in the very early hours of Tuesday morning.

The BBC's correspondent in Tehran, Jim Muir, says Mr Straw has just a few hours of rest before plunging into the minefield of Iranian politics.

His scheduled talks with the Iranian foreign minister are reported to have been split in two by a meeting of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, which requires the attendance of both the foreign minister and President Khatami.

Iranian President Muhammad Khatami
Mr Khatami has warned against unilateral moves
Mr Khatami is scheduled to meet Mr Straw later in the day.

Our correspondent says that any urgent issues emerging from the foreign secretary's first meeting with his Iranian counterpart will presumably be discussed by the council, which brings together the country's top political and military figures.

Despite their differences, Iran's hardliners and reformers agree that Iran will not simply join an America-led coalition against the Taleban.

Mr Khatami himself has recently tried to promote the idea of international action against terrorism through a campaign pursued under the auspices of the United Nations and not in what he calls hasty, unilateral moves.

Areas of co-operation

UK officials said the areas where Britain wanted to see international co-operation included tackling the financing of terrorism, improving aviation security, and intelligence and police work to identify and remove terrorist threats.

The officials said they would naturally be very interested in any information about the Saudi-born Islamic militant, Osama bin Laden, and wanted to hear Iranian views on dealing with the Taleban rulers of Afghanistan.

One very senior UK official noted that Iran was not classified by Britain as a country that sponsored terrorism, although it was on Washington's list.

The UK broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in 1989, after the late Ayatollah Khomeini called for the death of the British author Salman Rushdie for allegedly insulting Islam in his writing.

But ambassadors were exchanged again after 10 years.

US interested

Mr Straw said he was not carrying any message from the United States.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell confirmed this, but said he expected to speak with Mr Straw after his trip and would be "interested in his observations".

The Americans, who do not have diplomatic ties with Tehran, have welcomed Iran's condemnation of the attacks on New York and Washington.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Reynolds reports from Jerusalem
"Israeli government officials are angry with comments Mr Straw made in an Iranian newspaper"
Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw
"Above all, people have to expect a great deal of uncertainty"
See also:

24 Sep 01 | Middle East
UK in new Mid-East row
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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