Iran demands apology from Britain over envoy?s arrest

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Britain ignored a call yesterday from the Iranian President for an apology over the arrest of a former ambassador for the country.

Britain ignored a call yesterday from the Iranian President for an apology over the arrest of a former ambassador for the country.

The former Iranian envoy to Argentina, Hadi Suleimanpour, was arrested on Thursday in connection with the bombing in 1994 of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people.

His arrest in Durham, where he is a research assistant at the university, drew sharp protests from Iran, which has denied any involvement in the Buenos Aires bombing.

On Saturday, Tehran severed economic and cultural ties with Argentina, which last week ordered the ambassador's extradition and the arrest of seven other Iranians in connection with the bombing of the AMIA community centre.

The row deepened yesterday when the Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, demanded an apology from Britain and announced that the government would take "strong action", but gave few details about what that would involve.

"What has happened has been politically motivated," he said. "There are currents behind the case trying to put the Islamic Republic under pressure by levelling baseless accusations and unfounded allegations against Tehran."

The British chargé d'affaires, who was summoned to the Iranian Foreign Ministry yesterday for the second time this weekend, denied any political motivation in the arrest.

The chargé, Matthew Gould, informed the Tehran authorities that the judicial process in Britain was independent of the Government.

The Foreign Office refused further comment other than the statement made by Mr Gould, but hopes that a major diplomatic row can be avoided.

The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has visited Tehran four times in the past two years as part of efforts to end Iran's isolation. Mr Straw and the Iranian Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharrazi, have reportedly been in regular contact about the Suleimanpour case.

Argentina has stepped up its investigation into the 1994 bombing under the presidency of Nestor Kirchner.

President Kirchner has broken with the country's past tradition of judicial impunity, which led to military commanders of Argentina's "dirty war" escaping justice.

Last month he described the lack of progress in the Buenos Aires bombing as a "national disgrace."

Carlos Menem, who was Argentina's president at the time of the bombing, is accused of taking a $10m (£6.35m) bribe to cover up Iran's responsibility.

Mr Suleimanpour is alleged to have been involved in planning the bombing and of providing information about the cultural centre's location. He denies the charges.

Iran withdrew its ambassador from Argentina soon after the 1994 attack to protest against the allegation that it was behind the attack, which injured hundreds of people.