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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 August, 2003, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
Iran envoy arrest row escalates
The aftermath of the 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre in Buenos Aires
No-one has been brought to justice over the 1994 bombing
Iran has demanded an apology from the UK Government over the arrest of its former ambassador to Buenos Aires on terrorism charges.

President Mohammad Khatami escalated the diplomatic row with Argentina and the UK in remarks on Iranian state radio.

"I hope that the British Government will swiftly go back on this incorrect action and apologise," he said.

The former ambassador, Hadi Soleimanpour, was arrested by British police on Thursday in Durham, northeast England, over his alleged role in the bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires in 1994 in which 85 people died.

He is to be held in custody until late August when a London court will rule on an Argentine extradition request.

The Islamic republic will never let this ugly and lying conspiracy take place against Iran
President Khatami

The British Charges d'Affaires, Matthew Gould, was summoned on Sunday for a second time by the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

They repeated their demands that Mr Soleimanpour should be released immediately.

According to reports, Mr Gould said he would convey their concern, but added that the court's decision was totally independent from the British government.

Diplomats say the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and his Iranian counterpart are in contact over this matter.

According to the BBC's Miranda Eeles Miranda Eeles in Tehran, they are trying to ensure the bilateral relations which have been improving over the last few years will not be affected.

"What has happened has been politically motivated," President Khatami said.

"There are currents behind the case trying to put the Islamic Republic under pressure by levelling baseless accusations and unfounded allegations against Tehran."

Ties cut with Argentina

Iran announced on Saturday that it was cutting cultural and economic ties with Argentina.

According to the state news agency, IRNA, the Argentine Charge d'Affaires was informed his government would be held accountable for all the legal and political impacts of the ruling.

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The former Iranian diplomat is alleged to have been involved in planning and commissioning the bombing - charges he denied.

The move provoked a media storm in Tehran, with one right-wing paper calling for the British ambassador to be kicked out.

Our correspondent says it is not yet clear how serious the diplomatic fall-out could be.

Relations between Iran and Britain have never been easy, but the trend in the last few years has shown signs of improvement.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has visited the country four times in the last two years and there is growing co-operation between the two countries over issues such as Afghanistan and fighting the drugs trade.

Diplomats say this tentative softening of relations could now be in jeopardy.

Eight warrants

The extradition warrant for Mr Soleimanpour was one of eight issued by an Argentine judge, Juan Jose Galeano, against Iranian citizens last week.

Similar warrants issued in March against four Iranian diplomats caused tension between Buenos Aires and Tehran, and resulted in the recall of the Iranian ambassador.

Last month, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner said the lack of progress in the case was a "national disgrace", and vowed to bring those responsible to justice.

Argentina's 300,000-strong Jewish community is the largest in Latin America, and has been the target of other attacks.

A 1992 bomb attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in which 29 people were killed also remains unsolved.

The BBC's Juliet Dunlop
"He is being held without bail until his next court appearance"

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25 Aug 03  |  Americas

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