Iran rejects British choice for ambassador

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Relations between Britain and Iran deteriorated sharply last night after Tehran formally rejected David Reddaway as the next British ambassador.

A Foreign Office spokesman confirmed that Iran had "refused to accept Mr Reddaway" and said: "We have no plans at present to put forward anyone else."

Relations between the two countries, which had seen a steady improvement, are now being in effect downgraded. Foreign Office sources said the decision to reject Mr Reddaway would inevitably have an effect on dealings between Tehran and London, and the Iranian ambassador would now receive "no more access than that of Britain's chargé d'affaires in Tehran".

Rejection of an ambassadorial nominee is unusual, but it is even more unusual for the fact of the rejection and the name of the individual to be made public. That the Foreign Office had no hesitation in placing both on the record yesterday is a measure of British displeasure.

Mr Reddaway, who is an expert on Iran and a former chargé d'affaires in Tehran, appeared to be an early victim of the hardline attitude taken by President George Bush in his State of the Union address last week, when he included Iran, with Iraq and North Korea, in an "axis of evil". Although the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, insisted in Washington last week that Britain would continue its dialogue with reformists in Iran, Mr Reddaway's appointment appears to have been too much of a risk for Iranian moderates in the current political climate.

The rejection ends a steady rapprochement between London and Tehran which began two months ago, when Mr Straw became the first British foreign secretary to visit Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Then, he spoke of inaugurating a "new era" in relations. But he returned to Tehran unexpectedly a month later, when he is believed to have raised the question of Mr Reddaway's appointment.

Mr Reddaway was seen in Britain as the ideal appointment to Tehran. He had served two tours of duty there before, speaks Farsi, and is married to an Iranian.