Iran severed relations with Britain today over the Salman Rushdie affair, buttressing the position of fundamentalist clerics in Tehran and dashing hopes for an early release of British hostages in Lebanon.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry attacked Britain for failing to denounce Rushdie and his novel, “The Satanic Verses,” a book judged so blasphemous to Islam by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that he condemned the writer to death.
“In the past two centuries Britain has been in the front line of plots and treachery against Islam and Muslims,” the ministry said in a statement announcing the break.
A British spokesman said the crisis was entirely Iran’s fault. “Incitement to murder is a violation of the most elementary principles and obligations that govern relations between sovereign states,” he said.
Lift Death Order
British leaders, while acknowledging that the book is offensive to Muslims, have demanded that Khomeini lift his death order against the 41-year-old British author and his publishers, Viking Penguin.
Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, in Vienna for East-West arms control talks, regretted the Iranian decision.
“When such a thing happens, I can only express regret,” he told reporters, adding that Moscow will not attempt to take advantage of the crisis.
Rushdie, born into an Indian Muslim family in Bombay, has remained in hiding under police protection since Khomeini first ordered his death on Feb. 14.
Relatives of British hostages in Lebanon said the break in relations dashed hopes for their freedom.
‘A Setback for Us’
“This is undoubtedly a setback for us and other families who were hoping for an early release,” said John Waite, cousin of kidnaped Anglican church envoy Terry Waite.
Waite disappeared on a hostage freedom mission in Beirut in 1987. Two other Britons, Belfast teacher Brian Keenan and television journalist John McCarthy, disappeared within six days of each other in April, 1986.