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Thursday, September 24, 1998 Published at 09:36 GMT 10:36 UK


UK seeks Rushdie guarantees

Salman Rushdie has lived under police protection for nine years

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of Muslim parliament in Britain: "Rushdie will not be safe outside Britain"
The UK Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, is meeting his Iranian counterpart where they are set to discuss the death threat - or fatwa - hanging over the author Salman Rushdie.

Britain is hoping for guarantees for the safety of Mr Rushdie, who has been living under police protection since 1989.

[ image: President Mohammad Khatami: Rushdie issue
President Mohammad Khatami: Rushdie issue "completely finished"
Ayotallah Khomeini called for him to be killed over his novel The Satanic Verses - ruling it was blasphemous.

The meeting at the United Nations in New York is the highest level contact between the two countries in four years - and comes amid hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough.

"We will be looking for a real commitment or guarantee for Rushdie's safety," Foreign Office Minister Derek Fatchett said of Mr Cook's meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi.

"We have yet to see how the Iranians wish to express that if they wish to express that at all. We don't know what they are putting on the table," he added.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said on Tuesday the Salman Rushdie affair should be regarded as "completely finished", but officials admitted this did not include the lifting of the edict.

British hopes

A bounty of more than £1m has been placed on Mr Rushdie's head by Islamic fundamentalists.

The Iranian Government has no power to cancel the fatwa, as it was issued by Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini shortly before he died.

Former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind: "Rushdie's best prospects not tomorrow or next week"
However, the UK Government hopes Tehran will dissociate itself from the fatwa and the bounty placed on Mr Rushdie's head.

An end to the dispute would allow London to restore diplomatic relations as the West's links with Iran slowly improve.

The UK Foreign Office has always said ensuring Mr Rushdie's safety in Britain is a "fundamental point of principle".

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