The Foreign Secretary rounded on critics of his drive to bring an ethical dimension to foreign affairs by declaring: "I reject the sneers of those who take our freedoms for granted but want us to turn a blind eye to oppression elsewhere.
"This is a far from perfect world. I do not imagine it ever will be. But I get angry when people use this as an excuse for trying not to make it better."
His words will be seen as a response to criticism from human rights groups of Lab- our's record since it took office.
At an Amnesty International conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the universal declaration on human rights, Mr Cook rejected criticism that an ethical stance would hinder Britain's interests. He announced all Britain's overseas missions would launch a drive to eliminate the use of torture. They would lobby countries to sign up to the United Nations convention against torture, endorsed by only 105 countries, and take up the cases of victims. The Foreign Office would fund a handbook for human rights groups and a research project by Save the Children. "We will make sure Britain speaks clearly and acts effectively against torture, and on behalf of its victims, wherever they are in the world," he said.
Mr Cook met the author Salman Rushdie for private talks yesterday after the announcement that the 15 Khordad Foundation in Iran has increased the reward for Rushdie's murder to pounds 1.6m.