Iran recalled its ambassadors from Common Market countries Tuesday, a day after the 12 European nations decided to withdraw their envoys from Tehran to protest Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's order that novelist Salman Rushdie be killed.
Iran said its move was in direct response to the European Community's decision Monday to recall its ambassadors and suspend high-level diplomatic exchanges.Hours later, Britain - which already said it would withdraw its entire embassy staff from Tehran - announced it was expelling the Iranian charge d'affaires and his aide to protest the death threats.
"It is neither possible nor sensible to conduct a normal relationship with Iran," British Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe told the House of Commons.
President Bush, calling Iran's death threats "deeply offensive to the norms of civilized behavior," said he backed the European countries.
"However offensive that book might be," Bush said, "I strongly support the Europeans' declaration. The United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran.
Bush also said American booksellers deserve the protection of the law against threats of retaliation if they display copies of "The Satanic Verses." Several book dealers, including two large chains, have taken the book off the shelves.
In a communique, the Iranian Foreign Ministry called Khomeini's week-old call for Rushdie's death a "consensus judgment of all Moslem leaders throughout the world," Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
Many Moslems consider Rushdie's book blasphemous, although some Moslems have criticized Khomeini's order that Rushdie be killed. The book has been banned by seven nations, including India, Egypt and Pakistan.
IRNA quoted the Foreign Ministry communique as saying respect for Islam and its values will remain an inviolable principle in relations between Iran and other countries.
Britain said Monday it was withdrawing its embassy staff from the Iranian capital and closing its embassy. The two countries resumed diplomatic relations in November after a 17-month break.
Rushdie, born into a Moslem family in India, now lives in London and is a British subject. The novel was first published in Britain in September.
Sweden and Norway, although not members of the Common Market, recalled their ambassadors from Iran Tuesday. Foreign Minister Sten Andersson of Sweden said his nation also will cancel a visit by a trade delegation scheduled for next month unless the death threat against Rushdie is rescinded.
The European Community's foreign ministers, at a meeting Monday in Brussels, Belgium, decided to recall their country's ambassadors for consultations at Britain's request.
Prime Minister Hussein Musavi of Iran called the EC action a "useless maneuver certain to harm the European Community rather than Iran," IRNA reported. He said it was "the Western countries which need to win Iran's favor, rather than the other way around," the agency said.
IRNA quoted Moslem leaders in Tehran as calling for severing ties with Britain because: "British colonialism and the Great Satan (the United States) had played a basic role in insulting the prophet Mohammed."
The statement called Rushdie's novel "slanderous" and asked the world's Moslems to carry out Khomeini's order that the author be killed.
Iranian clerics have put a $5.2 million bounty on the author's head. Rushdie is reportedly in hiding under police guard.
Publishers in France, West Germany, Greece and Turkey have canceled plans to publish Rushdie's book, and it has been pulled from bookstore shelves in Japan.
In a letter Tuesday to Premier Michel Rocard of France, the more than 500 authors in the French section of the international Pen Club called for publication of "The Satanic Verses." The authors said they were confident authorities could assure the publishers' safety. Last week, Christian Bourgois, the French publisher with rights to the novel, said it was suspending publication to protect its employees.