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Iran Threatens Break With Britain Over ‘Verses’

From Times Wire Services

Iran’s Parliament voted today to break diplomatic relations with Britain in one week unless London changes its “hostile stance” to the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s death decree against author Salman Rushdie.

Britain refused to bow to the Iranian ultimatum.

The official Islamic Republic News Agency reported that 100 of 180 deputies present in the 270-member legislature, known as the Majlis, voted for the bill.

It was Parliament’s response to Britain’s leading the 12-member European Community in pulling its diplomats from Tehran after a death threat issued by Khomeini against the Indian-born British author of “The Satanic Verses.” Rushdie’s novel is considered blasphemous by Muslims.

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The Iranian news agency said the Majlis would give Britain a week to “reconsider its unprincipled stand on the contents of ‘The Satanic Verses’ before ordering the Iranian Foreign Ministry to cut off all diplomatic ties.”

The agency quoted one deputy, Hussein Mahlouji, as saying that “if Britain apologized and regretted the contents of ‘The Satanic Verses’ and said it had no part in the production of the book, it would be a great political victory for Iran.”

In London, British Foreign Office Minister William Waldegrave said Britain regrets the Iranian Parliament’s threat to sever diplomatic relations but will not change its stance concerning Rushdie.

“Clearly, the British position will not be altered by threats of that kind,” Waldegrave said. “We regret the statement and hope Iranian leaders will consider again what so many international leaders have now said to them, that they have an obligation to behave within international law.”

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British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher told the House of Commons today that freedom of speech and expression are “subject only to the laws of this land ... and will remain subject to the rule of law.”

“It is absolutely fundamental to everything in which we believe and cannot be interfered with by any outside force,” she said.

The fact about 100 lawmakers of the 270-member Parliament were absent from the vote fueled speculation among political observers that there are some moderates among the ruling clergy who oppose Iran’s current anti-Western policy because it may damage Iran’s oil-based economy and further delay its economic recovery from its 8-year war with Iraq.


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