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Sharp UK protest to Iran on Rushdie

IN THE mounting war of words between Britain and Iran, a Foreign Office minister yesterday summoned Tehran's top London envoy to protest against Iran's recent and frequent reiteration that Salman Rushdie must be killed.

The protest came a day after two-thirds of Iranian MPs supported the call for the execution of the four-year-old fatwa against Mr Rushdie over his book The Satanic Verses. They endorsed a declaration made three days earlier by Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which said the death edict 'must be implemented without a doubt, and shall be implemented'. The call by the majlis, or parliament, reinforced the impression of an increasingly defiant Iran, because it was the majlis which voted to sever relations with Britain over the Rushdie book in 1989.

Douglas Hogg, a Minister of State, told the Iranian charge d'affaires, Gholamreza Ansari, that the British government was 'deeply disturbed by recent statements from a number of figures in Iran' and that 'this was an outrageous infringement of Mr Rushdie's rights and a violation of international law'. He asked Mr Ansari to 'reinforce this message to his government'. The envoy handed over a message from President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani for John Major, the contents of which were not disclosed.

In the past few weeks, Britain has deliberately raised the profile of the fatwa issue by inviting Mr Rushdie for talks at the Foreign Office and by bringing up the issue in international contexts. The question has been internationalised by other European governments, notably Bonn and Paris, speaking up for Mr Rushdie. Germany announced this week that it was freezing a cultural agreement with Iran, prompting calls in the Iranian press for Tehran to stop signing contracts with firms from Germany, Iran's biggest trade partner.

Iranian sources said they had identified a shift in Europe's policy since the departure of Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the former German foreign minister. One newspaper warned that 'the Germans are on the edge of an abyss' after having been 'duped by the British because of their inexperience in international affairs' - a reference to the relatively inexperienced German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel. The sources said that rather than prompting Iran to reconsider, the European posture would lead to a radicalisation of the Tehran regime.