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British MPs want Iran ties on hold over human rights.

By Dominic Evans

LONDON, June 28 (Reuters) - A majority of British members of parliament have called for London's rapprochement with Tehran to be put on hold until Iran improves its human rights record, campaigners said on Wednesday.

Speaking just days before a landmark visit to Tehran by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, they said 335 parliamentarians had signed a statement calling for political and trade relations to be conditional on Iran 's full respect for human rights.

"The statement signed by the 335 MPs says that because there is no evidence of real change or a willingness to change in Iran , we should not rush at cosying up to the regime," Labour MP Robin Corbett said.

Corbett unveiled the declaration at a meeting alongside representatives of the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran and a handful of British MPs and peers who have been vocal critics of the Iranian leadership.

Signatories included 204 ruling Labour members and 78 from the main opposition Conservative Party. Another 53 of the 659 MPs had signed, along with 61 members of the House of Lords.

The statement said the response to pro-democracy demonstrations in Iran last summer "shows there has been no improvement in human rights in Iran ".

"This is a regime which fears its people as well as denying democracy and respect for human rights," it said.


Britain has been trying to build on a fragile improvement in ties since Iran distanced itself from a "fatwa" calling for the death of British author Salman Rushdie.

Officials say Britain is still concerned over Iran 's human rights record, its implacable hostility to Israel and fears about its plans to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

But it has discreetly tried to encourage reformist President Mohammad Khatami, whose supporters won a sweeping victory over conservatives in parliamentary elections four months ago.

Wednesday's statement said Khatami's record in office undermined a Western consensus that the president was pressing Iran 's conservative religious leadership to reform.

"President Khatami's direct role in the suppression of the pro-democracy demonstrations prove that hope for democratic change is a mirage," the statement added.

"We believe the promotion of economic and diplomatic relations with Iran should be conditional on full respect for human rights and an end to the arrest, torture and threatened execution of those who demonstrated for democracy and freedom."

Cook will fly to Tehran on Tuesday on the first visit by a British foreign minister since Iran 's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

His visit was postponed from last month because of sensitivities over Iranian parliamentary elections and the trial in Shiraz of 13 Jews and eight Moslems charged with spying for Israel. The trial verdict is due on Saturday.

"(Cook) takes the view that it is better to go over there and express (his) views direct to them. We take the view that it is better that they demonstrate both a willingness for change and some reality behind the rhetoric," Corbett told Reuters.

Cook's visit follows a similar trip to London in January by his Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi.


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