Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini told visiting Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze that Moscow should embrace Islam and join Iran in "confronting the devilish acts of the West."
Khomeini's remarks Sunday coincided with an announcement by Iranian parliamentary officials that they would vote this week on whether to sever diplomatic ties with Britain in the ongoing controversy over "The Satanic Verses" by British author Salman Rushdie.Official Tehran Radio said Khomeini made the remarks during a meeting at his home in the northern Tehran suburb of Jamaran.
"(Khomeini) stressed . . . good neighborly ties and the expansion of strong ties in various dimensions in confronting the devilish acts of the West," Iran's official news agency IRNA quoted Tehran Radio as saying.
In the first meeting in a decade between Khomeini and a senior foreign dignitary, Khomeini also told Shevardnadze he hoped Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev would study his earlier message to abandon "decadent Marxism" and embrace Islam.
The Soviet delegation arrived in Tehran Saturday on a three-day visit, the final leg of Shevardnadze's 10-day Mideast tour, which has also taken him to Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Iraq.
The call for closer Soviet ties came as the Iranian parliament decided to vote next week on whether to break ties with Britain. More than 100 deputies proposed a bill to sever ties in response to what IRNA described as London's "hostile reaction" to Khomeini's death decree against Rushdie for his novel, which Moslems consider blasphemous.
IRNA said the bill would have priority consideration at the next parliamentary session on Tuesday.
Khomeini's remarks Sunday marked the first time the Iranian spiritual leader has publicly expressed a desire to exploit his country's strategic position to play the Soviet Union off against the West.
Before the Aug. 20 cease-fire in the Iran-Iraq war, Tehran's relations with Moscow were lukewarm because of massive Soviet arms and heavy industrial equipment sales to Iraq.
But the cease-fire and the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan have enabled Khomeini to call for closer ties with Moscow, even though in a speech broadcast Wednesday on Tehran Radio he said he would "cut off the hands" of those advocating closer Iranian ties with either East or West.
In a related development, a United Arab Emirates newspaper Sunday quoted Western diplomatic sources in New Delhi, India, as saying the Israeli secret service Mossad has offered Rushdie "lifelong" protection from Islamic fanatics.