The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran's leader, said Sunday he wants strong ties with Moscow to help fight the "devilish" West, and Iranian lawmakers reportedly agreed to consider breaking ties with Britain.
Khomeini's overtures to the Soviet Union, which he previously condemned for its atheist ideology, came during a 1 1/2-hour meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze.
Iran's news agency said it was believed to be the first private meeting between Iran's 88-year-old revolutionary patriarch and a foreign minister.
In an indication of warming relations, the semiofficial newspaper Tehran Times quoted an "unidentified source" as saying that "current discussions are under way on significant arms dealing" between Moscow and Tehran. The newspaper added that an Iranian military delegation visited Moscow last December as part of a "joint economic commission" set up in 1988.
Neither Khomeini nor Shevardnadze mentioned arms negotiations in their public comments.
The Soviet Union had been a major arms supplier to Iraq, Iran's foe in the eight-year Persian Gulf War.
Khomeini stressed to Shevardnadze the importance of "the expansion of strong ties in various dimensions in confronting the devilish acts of the West," Tehran Radio reported.
Shevardnadze later met with Prime Minister Hussein Moussavi, and the two agreed to set up mechanisms for "regulating political contacts" between Moscow and Tehran, Tehran Radio said.
Shevardnadze said that Nikolai Konarev, chairman of the Iran-Soviet joint economic commission, will visit Iran shortly "with significant proposals," Iran's news agency reported.
"We hope significant changes will take place in bilateral cooperation in the political and economic fields as a result of the current atmosphere," he told Moussavi.
Khomeini used the meeting with Shevardnadze to deliver a short sermon intended for Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, according to the Iranian news service, the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
Tehran Radio, monitored in Nicosia, said Khomeini expressed dissatisfaction at Gorbachev's treatment of the spiritual aspects of a message he sent him Jan. 4. Khomeini called for the Kremlin leader to study Islam and consider it as a solution to social problems.
"I wanted to open for Mr. Gorbachev a window to a great world--that is the world after death, which is the eternal one. That was the main thrust of my message, and I hope he will try again in this respect," the radio quoted Khomeini as saying.
Shevardnadze quoted Gorbachev as saying all Soviet leaders have studied Khomeini's message, which was "full of many ideas."
"Undoubtedly we agree with many major points, but there are points with which we disagree too," he said.
Tehran Radio quoted Shevardnadze as telling Khomeini: "Our conviction is that conditions are ripe for relations between our two countries to enter a qualitatively new stage of cooperation in all fields."
The ayatollah replied: "Of course we want relations to develop, too."
The radio broadcast 22 minutes of the meeting at Khomeini's home in north Tehran in which Shevardnadze, speaking through an interpreter, relayed a message from Gorbachev to Khomeini.
Past 'Gross Errors'
Shevardnadze quoted Gorbachev as saying Moscow respects freedom of choice for nations and, while backing Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, defended the Soviet system as the right choice for its own people despite "gross errors" in the past.
Iran's news agency said Shevardnadze did not ask Khomeini to withdraw his order for Muslim zealots to assassinate British author Salman Rushdie because of his book "The Satanic Verses." Britain reportedly asked Shevardnadze to press Khomeini to give a reprieve to Rushdie, whose book has been denounced as insulting to Islam.
"There was no mention of the affair in Shevardnadze's speech," IRNA said.
The meeting with Shevardnadze came two days after Khomeini declared Iran does not need relations with the West. This issue has divided the Tehran hierarchy between so-called pragmatists, who favor more relations with the rest of the world, and hard-liners, who favor continued isolation.
However, Iran's Cabinet declared Sunday that it is united behind Khomeini, reported Tehran Television, which also was monitored in Nicosia.
'Enemies of Islam'
"Your children are united as a single hand against the enemies of Islam," it quoted a Cabinet statement as saying of the international furor over Rushdie.