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Iran receives biggest British trade delegation since 1979 revolution

TEHRAN, June 25 (AFP) - A high-ranking British trade delegation, the biggest since the 1979 Islamic revolution, arrived in Tehran early Friday, several weeks after Tehran and London normalized diplomatic ties.

"It's the most important post-revolution mission of its kind," Darmott Graham, a coordinator of the six-day visit, told AFP.

The delegation, led by former Foreign Office minister Sir Jeremy Hanley, includes representatives from 30 companies such as Barclays Bank, British Aerospace, Marconi Communications, Thames Water and Anglo-Dutch giant Royal Dutch-Shell.

Graham said the mission would mainly focus on evaluating the market and establishing contacts to assess the opportunities in Iran, but some contracts were already being discussed.

The delegation is due to meet officials from Iran's oil and economy ministries and other trade and business officials from the public and private sector.

The dominant power in Iran up to the 1950s, Britain has lost out to its European partners over the past 20 years because of the strained relations between London and the new Islamic regime.

"We are far behind the Germans, the French and the Italians," said Graham.

British exports to Iran fell from 790 million dollars in 1993 to just 331 million pounds 525 million dollars in 1998. Iranian exports to Britain last year amounted to just 56 million dollars last year.

But the Iranian authorities now "showed a lot of interest in attracting British investors," Graham said.

Britain and Iran restored full diplomatic relations last month after years of strained ties over a 1989 fatwa or death sentence issued against British author Salman Rushdie by revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The two governments raised their charges d'affaires to ambassador status after a meeting in New York last September between British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi.

Kharazi told Cook that Tehran would not seek to apply the 1989 fatwa and distanced his government from a 2.8 million dollar bounty offered by a religious foundation here.


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