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World - Middle East

U.S., Britain cautious about Iran's position on Rushdie

Khatami
Khatami announces that Tehran will not carry out its death sentence against Salman Rushdie  
 
RELATED VIDEO
CNN's Christiane Amanpour
Real 28K 56K
Windows Media 28K 56K
September 22, 1998
Web posted at: 5:20 p.m. EDT (2120 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said on Tuesday the Salman Rushdie affair should be regarded as "completely finished." But the United States and Britain reacted cautiously.

Khatami said the Iranian government would not carry out the death sentence issued against Rushdie by the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989, but he did not say that Iran was lifting the fatwa, or religious order condemning the British author to death.

Iranian officials have repeatedly said that since Khomeini issued the order, shortly before he died, no one can rescind it.

Rushdie was targeted for alleged blasphemy of Islam in his novel "The Satanic Verses."

"We should consider the Salman Rushdie issue as completely finished," Khatami told Western reporters in New York, where he was attending the U.N. General Assembly.

He said the Iranian government had already announced that it would take no action on the issue and that his government is now more concerned about dialogue.

"From now on, rather than the war of civilizations, we want to promote the dialogue of civilizations, and we hope we have entered the era of dialogue," he said.

Iranian sources said that reports in some U.S. media that Iran had lifted the fatwa were incorrect.

Rushdie
Rushdie in London during November 1996  

Responding to those reports, White House spokesman Mike McCurry told reporters, "Given our strong feelings on the fatwa issue on Salman Rushdie initially, if that is carried through and rescinded ... that would be a welcome development."

But he cautioned that Iran's actions spoke louder than its words.

Diplomats said they hoped Iran Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi would clarify Iran's position, and announce practical measures to lessen the threat to Rushdie's life, when he meets British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook at the United Nations on Thursday.

A British official said the issue is certain to be raised at that meeting and Britain is working for a resolution of the problem.

Rushdie has lived in hiding under British police protection, making only infrequent public appearances, for the past nine years.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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