British author Salman Rushdie said he was sorry if his novel "The Satanic Verses" offended Moslems and insisted that their rejection of him was a harsher punishment than the 18 months he has spent in hiding.

"I have said over and over again that the book did not set out to be the thing that it is accused of being, which is insult and abuse," he said in his first television interview since Iranian death threats forced him into hiding in Feburary 1989."If people have been upset in that way I'm sorry . . . I'm very sad that that should be the case," the Indian-born author told an arts program broadcast Sunday on London Weekend Television.

"People have said that I ought to be punished . . . Well all I can say is that if punishment was the aim, well I've had some," said Rushdie, looking tense and pale.

"For me one of the greatest losses is to be reviled by the people I wrote about . . . I've never rejected the world I came from . . . (and) to be rejected by it is horrible.

"I hope people will understand that that's actually a much worse privation than any of the physical aspects of this and it hurts a lot and I hope we can find a way past it," he said.

The interview was previewed to reporters on Thursday just hours before Britain and Iran announced that they were resuming diplomatic relations, broken over the affair.

Britain originally said Iran must lift its death order on Rushdie before ties could be restored and it was not immediately clear what effect renewed ties would have for the author.

Rushdie has been living under armed guard at secret hideouts.