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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 04:05 GMT
Rejection threatens UK-Iran detente
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (left) meets Iranian President Mohammed Khatami
The UK has been trying to mend ties with Iran
Paul Reynolds

British hopes of improving relations with Iran are under threat after Tehran refused to accept a new UK ambassador, David Reddaway.

An Iranian newspaper had denounced him as "a Jew and a member of MI6" (the British secret service).

The claims were made by Jomhuri Islami, which is seen as representing conservative elements in the Islamic republic.

It may reflect an internal argument about Iranian relations with the West.

Author Salman Rushdie
A fatwa, threatening death, was issued against Salman Rushdie
Under interntional conventions, a country can refuse to accept the appointment of another's diplomatic staff.

On the face of it, David Reddaway is an ideal candidate to be the British ambassador to Iran.

He served there in the late 1970s, and again in the early 1990s.

He speaks Farsi, and his wife is Iranian.

He is not, in fact, Jewish, and the BBC has been told that he is not in MI6.

His name, incidentally, does not appear on the notorious list of MI6 officers which was published on the internet some time ago - and which is still posted.

If Mr Reddaway is refused, it could have to do with his previous time in Iran.

Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza
The Shah was overthrown by Islamic radicals
He was there during the last days of the Shah, which might taint him in the eyes of some Iranian hardliners.

There is also a suggestion in an Iranian paper, Kayhan, that his wife is related to the head of the illegal Communist Party, Tudeh.

Britain has the option of leaving the post vacant if its man is turned down.

It has not yet threatened to do so but, if it came to that, it would mark the failure of a British policy of trying to improve relations with Iran.

Britain cut ties with Iran in 1989 after Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, threatening death, against Salman Rushdie over his book The Satanic Verses.

Relations were restored in 1998 when Iran indicated that the fatwa would not be pursued.

Suspicion

The current UK Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has paid two visits to Iran recently, both times seeking help in the international war on terrorism, and the rejection of his nomination for ambassador is a slap in the face for him personally.

Britain has for long had sticky relations with Iran, especially with radical Islamic circles.

It goes back to 1953, when the then Iranian Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadeq, nationalised the oilfields and was overthrown in a coup mounted by the CIA and supported by Britain.

Britain was again vilified after the Shah was deposed and the reign of the ayatollahs began.

That the British are still regarded with suspicion was evident only recently when the current Iranian leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, described Britain as a "servant of the United States".

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Robbins
"The hardliners are still in control"
See also:

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
12 Jan 00 | UK Politics
Thaw in UK relations with Iran
27 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iran
27 Dec 01 | Middle East
Timeline: Iran
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