Author:Darwish, Adel

Adel Darwish reports on the decision by Iran and Britain to let bygones be bygones and its wider implications.

The restoration last month of diplomatic relations between Iran and Britain was hailed as a major triumph for Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's diplomacy of "ethical foreign policy".

British and other EU members ambassadors were withdrawn in 1989 following a fatwa by the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini, calling for the death of British Author Salman Rushdie after publication of his book The Satanic Verses, following three months of demonstrations and public burnings of the book by Muslims in Britain and elsewhere.

It was a dramatic finale to a decade of frustration and months of secret negotiations, so secret, that "even Mr Rushdie was not told about any thing until the last minute," in the words of a Foreign office mandarin.

On 24 September, 10 years to the day after the publication of The Satanic Verses, Mr Cook and Iran's foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi announced, in New York, that the affair was over and that Mr Rushdie's safety and security were guaranteed.

Britain stated that it had never condoned the offence caused to Muslims by Mr Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses. However, Mr Cook emphasised the right to free speech in international law and in the UN charter for human rights.

In March this year Mary Robinson, the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, who was in Teheran to attend a conference on Human rights, said that she was assured by Iran's deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, that Iran would not try to carry out the death penalty issued against Mr Rushdie.

The diplomatic efforts had centred on persuading Iran to withdraw support from the $2.5 million bounty offered by the 15 Khordad Foundation, backed by hardliners opposed to the liberalising Iranian president, Mohammed Khatami, who inisists the fatwa still stands. A reduced bounty has been offered on Rushdie but such moves are entirely without the support of the Islamic Republic. Since the official withdrawal there has been a scuffle of discontent from certain Islamic groups.

Two recent gestures set the stage for the agreement reached in New York -- Iran's public expression of condolence for the victims of the Omagh bombing, and the condemnation by Britain of the murder of nine Iranian diplomats by Taliban militiamen in Afghanistan. Both went well beyond the norms of the frosty relationship that had existed between the two countries, signalling a...

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