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BBC News Front page | In Depth | World | Middle East | Iran: Who holds the power?
Iran: The stuggle for changeIran: The struggle for change

Relations with the west Relations with the west

Relations between Iran and the West have long been fraught with tension. Iran has been accused of supporting international terrorism and is still subject to US sanctions. The United States severed diplomatic ties after Iranian students seized 63 hostages at the US embassy in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Britain closed its embassy the same year, but relations hit rock bottom 10 years later when the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or religious edict, condemning British writer Salman Rushdie to death because of his novel The Satanic Verses.

In 1999 Iran symbolically ended its isolation when President Khatami visited Italy. The trip was the first state visit by an Iranian leader to a Western country since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Mr Khatami also became the first Iranian president to meet the Pope. He followed this up with a visit to France where he delivered a major speech on cultural pluralism to Unesco, the United Nations cultural organisation. Britain and Iran upgraded their relations in 1999 to ambassadorial level after Tehran distanced itself from the fatwa against Mr Rushdie. Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi visited Britain in January - the first such direct contact in more than 20 years.

These trips to Europe have been seen as an attempt to create a new relationship with Western Europe at the expense of the US, with which Iran still has antagonistic relations. The European Union has actively opposed US sanctions and several European oil companies have signed large deals with Iran. Economically it is vital for Iran to encourage foreign investment, and if President Khatami can increase his standing abroad it may strengthen his authority at home.

Iran's changing face
Democracy and reform
The role of youth
Women and society
Relations with the West
The media
The economy
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