The increasingly fraught internal confrontation in Iran yesterday forced Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, to postpone a ground-breaking visit to the country he was due to make next week.
Mr Cook had been scheduled to travel to Teheran on 8 May for what would have been the first official visit by a British cabinet minister since the Islamic revolution of 1979. But the trip has now been re-arranged for early July.
Last night the Foreign Office insisted the postponement was not the result of the current in camera trial of 13 Iranian jews on charges of spying for Israel, nor the shutdown of 16 pro-reform publications last week - the biggest crackdown yet by conservative clerics in their continuing power struggle with moderates led by President Mohammed Khatami.
Instead diplomats maintained the delay reflected Mr Cook's need to stay close to developments in Zimbabwe, and the fact that Iran holds a second round of parliamentary elections on May 5, the final result of which would have only been known as Mr Cook arrived. But even that explanation is a measure of Mr Cook's anxiety not to be seen to be "interfering" in internal Iranian politics. Though reformers scored a substantial victory in the first round last February, these run-offs are seen as a further opportunity for hardliners to roll back the reformist tide.
In Iran itself, the conservatives' pressure showed no sign of relenting yesterday, as several reformists appeared in the clerically-controlled revolutionary court, to be questioned behind closed doors about their role in a seminar in Berlin earlier this month which, according to hardliners, turned into a frontal challenge to the Islamic values of the Khomeini revolution. Among those arraigned was Hamid Reza Jalaiepour, editor of an outspoken newspaper that was closed last week.
He arrived at the court carrying a toothbrush and change of clothes, saying he was expecting to be held. "I am always prepared, I carry these with me wherever I go," Mr Jalaiepour declared. Others already detained include two leading Iranian feminists, Mehrangiz Kar and Shala Lahiji.
Iran's political struggle pits conservatives in the clergy and elsewhere determined to maintain strictly the principles of the revolution, and moderates including students and intellectuals who say Iranian society can and must be modernised. Though there have been scattered protests, campus unrest this time has been a shadow of that which greeted last July's closure of the pro-Khatami paper, Salam.
- More about:
- Foreign And Commonwealth Office
- Labour Party
- Middle East
- Robin Cook