Europe's envoys return to Tehran

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Iran and the European Union have struck a deal to allow EU ambassadors to return to Tehran. The agreement follows months of diplomatic impasse which had embarrassed both sides.

EU ambassadors were withdrawn from Iran six months ago, prompted by a Berlin court finding that the Iranian government had ordered the murder of Kurdish dissidents in Germany. Tehran had insisted that when the EU returned its ambassadors, the German envoy must come last, a condition that the EU had resisted. Iran has denied any involvement in the 1992 killing of four Iranian Kurdish dissidents in Berlin.

But yesterday a spokesman for Luxembourg, which holds the EU presidency, said most of the EU ambassadors withdrawn from Tehran after the court finding last April would be returning to the Islamic republic last night.

EU governments had given Luxembourg a mandate to negotiate with Iran on the return of the envoys. In a statement, Luxembourg's foreign ministry, speaking on behalf of the EU, said: "After the election of a new Iranian president and the formation of a new government, the time has come to resolve the problem of the return of the ambassadors."

The Iranian news agency IRNA quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying Tehran had agreed to the proposal. It quoted "political quarters" as saying Iran's decision was partly due to strong EU and French support for a recent $2bn deal led by the French oil giant Total, which went against US sanctions against the Islamic republic.

l The United States has noticed a toning down of hostile rhetoric from Iran since a new government took over there three months ago, a senior US official said on Wednesday. The State Department's newly appointed Middle East chief, Martin Indyk, said that while Washington had not detected any concrete foreign policy changes in Tehran, a US conditional offer of dialogue with Iran remained on the table.