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Wary Iran recalls UK envoy
- Tehran not keen on downgrading strained ties with Britain

Tehran, Sept. 3 (Reuters): Iran’s ambassador to London has returned to Tehran for consultations but ties have not been downgraded, British and Iranian officials said today, amid a dispute over Britain’s arrest of an Iranian diplomat.

Iran has said the case of Hadi Soleimanpour, a former Iranian ambassador arrested in Britain in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre, was politically motivated. Britain denies the charge, saying its courts are independent.

Adding to tensions, gunshots apparently fired from a passing motorbike hit the British embassy in Tehran today, causing no injuries but prompting the mission to shut temporarily. Iran said it was investigating the “irresponsible act”.

Analysts have said Iran may be wary of downgrading ties with Britain in case it prompts a response from other European Union members when Iran is facing mounting international pressure for tougher inspections of its nuclear programme.

European Union diplomats in Tehran said they were seeking to defuse tensions in contacts with Iranian officials.

“We understand the Iranian ambassador has returned to Tehran, but this is not a downgrading of relations,” a British foreign office spokesman said in London. Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson Hamid Reza Asefi told the official Irna news agency that Morteza Sarmadi had returned for “consultations” but did not say how long he would stay.

Speaking after a weekly cabinet meeting, Iranian Vice-President Mohammad Ali Abtahi said: “No decision was taken on downgrading the relations between the two countries and I don’t see it in that framework.”

Relations have been strained between the two countries following the arrest on August 21 of Hadi Soleimanpour in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish centre which killed 85 people and wounded some 200. Soleimanpour, who was Iran’s ambassador to Argentina at the time of the bombing and who is in custody at Argentina’s request, has protested his innocence.

He was denied bail for the second time on Friday by a British court. The Iranian government and his parents had offered a combined guarantee of £700,000 that he would not flee the country. Iran has said the case has no legal basis and called for Soleimanpour’s immediate release. It has promised “strong action” and warned Britain the issue would harm bilateral ties.

Hardline Iranian newspapers have called for Britain’s ambassador to Tehran to be expelled. Iran has already cut economic and cultural ties with Argentina.

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