In an unprecedented protest, the 12 member states of the European Community on Monday decided to simultaneously recall their senior diplomats from Iran until the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini withdraws his "death sentence" against novelist Salman Rushdie.
Britain, home to the Indian-born author of the controversial novel "The Satanic Verses," took the most extreme action by announcing the withdrawal of its five-person diplomatic mission from Iran.
British Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe termed Khomeini's call for Rushdie to be killed--reiterated by the Iranian leader on Sunday and Monday--"an affront to international standards that will not be tolerated."
The Common Market countries--Britain, France, West Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Greece, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Portugal and Luxembourg--agreed to join in a "political signal," as one delegate called it, which further isolates Iran as a pariah state in the community of nations.
'Incitement to Murder'
"We condemn this incitement to murder as an unacceptable violation of the most elementary principles and obligations that govern relations among sovereign states," the European leaders announced in a joint statement.
They also agreed to "suspend exchanges of high-level official visits" with Iran. But they rejected a proposal by West Germany and France to restrict the movement of Iranian diplomats in Europe to a 60-kilometer (36-mile) radius around European capitals.
"We were a little surprised, especially by the British reluctance to take the next step," West German spokesman Reinhold Krobogh said. "After all, he (Rushdie) is their guy. They were the ones who were pushing for action."
However, the disagreement over proposed travel restrictions appeared to be the only major chink in the united front presented by countries that embrace a combined population of more than 330 million.
Some of the countries had already taken diplomatic action against Iran after Khomeini's initial call last week that Rushdie be slain for allegedly committing blasphemy against Islam in his novel. West Germany, for example, ordered its ambassador home from Tehran, and France kept its ambassador in Paris for "consultations."
But the European leaders eagerly seized the opportunity to show that the power of concerted action is much more dramatic than sanctions by individual states. Some of the diplomats here for Monday's meeting said that if Europe is going to succeed in its dream of achieving political unity, it must do so through actions such as these.
"We share a sense of outrage over this incitement to murder on British soil," Howe said in a press conference after a day of discussions by European foreign ministers over the terms of action against Iran.
All of the Common Market countries except tiny Luxembourg had diplomatic representatives in Iran. Most had maintained some form of diplomatic ties with Tehran throughout the Iranian revolution and the holding of American hostages there nearly a decade ago.
The Common Market action came after a period of general warming of relations between Iran and the West. Both France and West Germany, for example, had recently sent trade delegations to Tehran, hoping for renewed economic ties with the oil-rich state.
Monday's declaration by the Europeans left unclear what Khomeini will have to do to get his nation back in the good graces of the West.
If Iran intends to develop normal relations again, the statement said, "it has to declare its respect for international obligations and renounce the use or the threatened use of violence."
The British Broadcasting Corp. reported that while the European leaders were meeting in Brussels, Iranian President Ali Khamenei arrived in Yugoslavia on an official state visit. Yugoslav newspapers, the BBC reported, began this week to publish a serialized version of "The Satanic Verses."
In another coincidental development, an Israeli publisher said Monday that it will issue a Hebrew-language edition of "The Satanic Verses" next month, Reuters news agency reported.
Chief editor Niva Lanir of Keter Publishing said that her company signed a contract with Rushdie's London publisher, Viking-Penguin, to translate and release the controversial novel, Reuters said.