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Monday, March 29, 1999 Published at 19:13 GMT 20:13 UK

World: Middle East

Wine upsets Iranian trip

Italy bowed to Iran's no alcohol request

By Middle East Correspondent Jim Muir

Iran has announced that it is postponing a visit to France by President Mohammed Khatami following disagreements over protocol.

The French government says the differences over the visit, which was due in April, centred on the serving of wine at official receptions for Mr Khatami.

The Paris visit was to have been President Khatami's most important foreign trip so far. No exact date had been announced though it was expected to take place in April.

No agreement

But President Khatami's office announced that the trip is no longer possible because the two sides have not been able to reach agreement on protocol.

Reports from Paris said the differences were over French insistence on serving wine at a state banquet for the Iranian president.

Alcohol is of course banned in the Islamic Republic and Italy respected Iranian sensitivities when President Khatami visited Rome earlier this month.

The Iranian statement and officials in Mr Khatami's office echoed the French reports that alcohol was the problem.

They pointed out that Islamic codes were normally respected during the president's visits abroad and that as well as representing Iran, he is also currently chairman of the Islamic Conference Organisation.

'Friendly relations'

But the statement added that Iran was determined to continue improving what it called its friendly and historic relations with France, indicating that Teheran would like the visit to go ahead later if the protocol problem can be overcome.

A spokesman at the French embassy in Teheran told the BBC that preparations for the visit were still going ahead actively, though no date had yet been set.

It is unlikely to happen though unless the French back down. The moderate Mr Khatami has to defend himself constantly against the attacks of hardliners who are always on the look out for signs of pandering to the west.

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