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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 15:11 GMT
Iran rejects UK ambassador
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw visiting Tehran
The row threatens improving ties between the countries
Relations between Iran and the UK have taken a turn for the worse with a diplomatic row between London and Teheran over the choice of a new British ambassador.

The Iranian Government has rejected the appointment of David Reddaway, who has served in Iran twice before.

Conservative newspapers in Teheran have suggested he is a Jewish Zionist and a spy.

Mr Reddaway, who speaks Farsi and is married to an Iranian, is not Jewish and the Foreign Office says he is not an intelligence officer.

The Foreign Office confirmed on Friday it would not be putting anyone else forward for the post.

The issue is now threatening to sour relations between the two countries which had been improving steadily since 1998.

It's our right to accept an ambassador or not

Hamid-Reza Assefi, Iranian foreign minister

At that time, the Iranian Government agreed it would not actively pursue a fatwa issued against British author Salman Rushdie after the publication of his book the Satanic Verses.

Britain will now be represented in Iran by its charge d'affaires and London will deny Iran's ambassador to Britain access to officials beyond that normally given to a charge d'affaires.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi described the UK Foreign Office reaction as "surprising".

Change of heart

Mr Assefi added: "It's a country's right to accept or not an ambassador of another country."

Dr Sadegh Ziebo-Kalam, professor of Iranian politics at Tehran University, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he believed the action was due to the people's perception that Britain was "downgrading" the status of Iran.

He added: "The people of Iran want to say to London that there is a price Britain has to pay if it wants to have closer ties with Washington."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed the issue in a telephone conversation with Iran's modernising President Khatami last month but was unable to bring about a change of heart.

Britain resumed full diplomatic relations at ambassadorial level only in 1999 after a long break following the overthrow of the shah in the 1979 Islamic revolution.

After the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US, Britain's improving relations with Iran improved further, after it was recognised that moderates in Iran also condemned the attacks.

But experts believe the rejection of Mr Reddaway will be seen as another victory for hardliners in Iran who are determined to destroy the work of reformers in developing closer ties with London.

The BBC's James Robbins
"Britain still believes Iran could be brought much closer to the West"
Dr Ray Takeyh, Iran Analyst
"Iranian diplomacy is hardening in the aftermath of the President's speech"
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
08 Feb 02 | Middle East
Iran blocks new UK ambassador
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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