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Friday, September 25, 1998 Published at 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK

World: Middle East

Promising reaction to Rushdie move

Military parades marked the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1980 war with Iraq

Britain's improving relations with Iran, prompted by a new attitude to the Rushdie affair, has so far produced little reaction in Iran which has been commemorating the outbreak of war with Iraq in 1980. But as Middle East Correspondent Jim Muir reports - on the Rushdie issue, no news is good news.

Many Iranians were out enjoying the spectacle of military parades in various parts of the country. Not many had even heard the news about Salman Rushdie.

Among ordinary Iranians, there is still a good deal of hostility towards the author.

But the crucial thing is whether the Iranian establishment sticks together on this issue, hard-liners and moderates alike.

So far, the signs are good. The hard-line speaker at Friday prayers in Tehran avoided any mention of it.

Diplomats there believe the moderate camps, led by President Khatami, must have cleared the controversial move with the hard-liners first. Otherwise, it would just have been too risky, especially with the conservatives currently in the ascendent.

While relations with the United States remain very much more sensitive, improving ties with Europe is generally seen by all Iranian factions as a good thing, especially as Iran's economy is in trouble at the moment because of the slump in oil prices.

Tehran's decision, assuming it is not spoiled in some way by hard-liners, can be expected to influence radicals among Shia Muslim communities outside the country, but it may cut little ice with Sunni Muslim extremist groups, who do not look to Tehran for guidance.

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