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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 04:02 GMT
Iran blocks new UK ambassador
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami
Relations had been improving between the countries
James Robbins

Britain's improving relations with Iran have suffered a major reverse.

The government in Tehran has rejected Britain's choice of a new ambassador.

David Reddaway was denounced by conservative Iranian newspapers, which speak for the country's hardline clerics.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
Blair: Rebuffed
They called him a Jewish MI6 spy. In fact Mr Reddaway is not Jewish and the British Government denies he is in MI6, its foreign intelligence service.

Mr Reddaway has served as a diplomat in Iran twice before, speaks Farsi and has an Iranian wife.

But even Prime Minister Tony Blair's efforts to get him accepted by the Iranians have now been rebuffed.

Mr Blair discussed the issue in a telephone conversation with Iran's modernising President Khatami last month.

After 11 September, Britain's improving relations with Iran moved even closer, recognising that moderates in Iran condemned the attacks on America.

'Axis of evil'

The rejection of Mr Reddaway is being seen as another victory for hardliners in Iran who are determined to destroy the work of reformers in developing closer ties with London.

They may have been spurred on by US President George W Bush, who denounced Iran last week as part of an "axis of evil", bracketing the country with Iraq and North Korea as supporters of terrorism.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw distanced himself firmly from that position, but many months spent trying to encourage moderates in Iran have come to nothing.

Mr Straw has visited Tehran twice - the first UK foreign secretary to set foot in the country since the fall of the Shah in 1979.

The BBC's Jim Muir
"It's highly unusual in diplomatic customs for such a thing to happen"
Prof of Iranian Politics Dr Sadegh Ziebo-Kalam
"Iran... wants to register its opposition to London's close ties with Washington"
Iranian Foreign Ministry's Dr Hamid Reza Asefi
"It is an individual problem"
See also:

08 Feb 02 | Middle East
Rejection threatens UK-Iran detente
29 Sep 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Iran's love-hate ties with the UK
25 Sep 01 | Middle East
UK fosters Iran relations
25 Sep 01 | Middle East
Iran to be shown terror evidence
27 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iran
27 Dec 01 | Middle East
Timeline: Iran
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