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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Straw seeks Iran anti-terror backing
President Mohammed Khatami, Iran
Jack Straw will meet the reformist President Khatami
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is visiting Iran later on Monday in the latest of a hectic series of efforts by UK politicians to build a global coalition against terrorism in the wake of the US attacks.

Iran was quick to condemn the 11 September attacks, and Mr Straw has praised its "humanity" and predicted a "new era" in relations with the Islamic state.

[Iran] has more reason than almost any other nation to know about the dreadful consequences of the extremism of the Taleban

Jack Straw
Mr Straw, who is on a four-day tour of the Middle East, has already touched down in Jordan, where he is making a brief stopover to meet King Abdullah II.

He will then head to Iran, becoming the first UK foreign secretary to visit the country since the Islamic revolution of 1979.

Mr Straw talks with the Jordanian monarch are expected to focus on the anti-terrorism coalition.

He is also meeting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Jordan. The foreign secretary, who is visiting Egypt and Israel later in the week, has said he will seek ways to help revive Middle East peace negotiations.

On his trip to Iran, Mr Straw told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The first message I am taking is that my visit is part of a continuing process for a deepening rapprochement with Iran.

"The second, of course, is to talk to the Iranian Government and representatives about the effect of the Taleban's extremism on the security of the whole region."

With more than two million Afghan refugees on its borders, Iran "has more reason than almost any other nation in the world to know about the dreadful consequences of the extremism of the Taleban", Mr Straw said.

Iranian reaction to the visit has been deeply divided, and BBC Tehran correspondent Jim Muir says Mr Straw risks walking into a political minefield.

Mixed reaction

Many reformists in Iran welcomed the visit as a step towards a thaw in relations with the west.

Others believe Mr Straw is simply on a mission on behalf of the US, which still lists Iran as a state that sponsors terrorism and has no official diplomatic links with it.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
Straw: Historic visit
Mr Straw stressed to the BBC that his visit had been planned for November and then brought forward in the wake of the atrocities in the US.

But one right-wing Iranian newspaper said to invite Mr Straw was to forget the blood of millions of innocent people shed by the US through its backing of Israel and other policies.

And an influential clerical group said the US was not fit to be the standard-bearer of an anti-terrorist movement.

Our correspondent says the hostile tone in some quarters in Iran makes it clear that it is impossible for President Khatami and the reformists to take advantage of any opportunities offered by the turbulent days that lie ahead.

Airspace refusal

Tehran has opposed any military attack on its eastern neighbour Afghanistan, and refused to allow its airspace to be used for air strikes.

It has called for an international coalition to fight terrorism, but said any reaction should be based on strong proof, and co-ordinated with the United Nations.

Mr Straw, who has previously suggested he is hoping Iran will help with intelligence information, said there was a clear responsibility for as much of a "formal justification" as possible to be made for any military action.

Neutrality hope

US allies hope Iran can be persuaded to at least remain neutral in the case of strikes on Afghanistan.

Britain has offered 25m to Afghanistan's neighbours to help them cope with the huge increase in refugees from the country.

Mr Straw will hold talks on Tuesday with Iran's President Khatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi.

A European Union delegation is due to follow him to the region over the next week.

The BBC's Jim Muir
"Its not yet clear how badly the Americans want Iran on board"
Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw
"Above all, people have to expect a great deal of uncertainty"
See also:

24 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Analysis: Straw's visit divides Iran
17 Sep 01 | Middle East
Iran condemns attacks on US
19 Sep 01 | Middle East
Middle East: Building the coalition
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