Iran to restart talks on Rushdie fatwa

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The Independent Online
The Iranian government hopes to re-start negotiations over the `fatwa' death sentence against British author Salman Rushdie now that EU ambassadors have returned to Tehran, the new Iranian minister of Islamic Guidance, Seyyed Ataollah Mohajerani, has told The Independent. Western diplomats in Tehran want a letter from the Iranians which effectively overturns the late Ayatollah Khomeini's `fatwa' against the author.

The Iranians are prepared to put their names to a letter which says that they are not going to kill Rushdie - but they will not officially overturn a religious edict.

Mr Mohajerani is one of the most liberal figures in the new government of President Mohamed Khatami. When he gave evidence to the Iranian parliament on 20 August, he said: "We can be against people's ideas but that does not mean we should be allowed to insult them ... if an intellectual expresses his theories, we should criticise him in a respectable way - and in this way we enrich our society. It is a great tragedy when a nation which has created so much civilisation and culture, uses bad language [against writers]."

And he added: "Islam is not like a small, dark alley in which man constantly hits his head against a wall and can't survive. Islam is like a highway, a road full of growth and happiness which a Muslim walks through all his life."

Mr Rushdie was sceptical yesterday about suggestions that the Iranian position has softened. "My own attitude is: wait and see," he told The Independent.