Iran's parliament voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to break diplomatic relations with Britain in one week unless London changes its "hostile stance" toward Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's death decree against author Salman Rushdie.
Tehran Radio and the official Islamic Republic News Agency said all but "two or three" of the 201 deputies present in the Majlis, or parliament, voted in favor of severing ties with Britain."We agree with the proposal and in the future this will be our stand toward any country which attacks Islam and Islamic sanctities," IRNA quoted Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati as saying before the vote.
In London, British Foreign Office Junior Minister Lynda Chalker said Iran had embarked on an unfortunate path. She reiterated that no country had the right to incite murder in Britain.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher told the House of Commons Tuesday that freedom of speech and expression are "subject only to the laws of this land and will remain subject to the rule of law.
"It is absolutely fundamental to everything in which we believe and cannot be interfered with by any outside force," she said.
The Iranian move was in response to Britain's role leading the 12-member European Community in pulling its diplomats out of Tehran after a death threat issued by Khomeini against the Indian-born British author of "The Satanic Verses." Rushdie's novel is considered blasphemous by Moslems.
IRNA said the Majlis would give Britain a week to "reconsider before ordering the Iranian Foreign Ministry to cut off all diplomatic ties.
IRNA quoted one deputy, Hussein Mahlouji, as saying that "if Britain apologized and regretted the contents of `The Satanic Verses' and said it had no part in the book's production, it would be a great political victory for Iran."
The agency said the proposal had gained final approval from the "Council of Guardians" and relations between the two countries would be automatically severed if there was no response from London in a week.
Iran's daily Abrar newspaper said in an editorial Tuesday that the Majlis vote to sever ties was aimed "not only against Britain but also a warning to its allies," IRNA reported.
Britain had just reopened its embassy in Tehran in December after a closure of nine years.
London recalled all its diplomats from Tehran on Feb. 20 to protest Khomeini's call six days earlier for the execution of Rushdie.
Mounting Western condemnation of the book coincided with a warming of previously lukewarm ties between Iran and the neighboring Soviet Union.
British officials have accused the Kremlin of exploiting the Rushdie affair to improve ties with Iran.
A Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman, in describing Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze's talks Sunday in Tehran, said Tuesday the Soviet Union may be able to play a "positive role" in resolving the crisis.
"The situation around `The Satanic Verses' causes grave concern for the Soviet leadership," said spokesman Gennady Gerasimov. "The row could lead to unforeseeable consequences."
Because the Soviet Union has a Moslem population of 45 million in five Central Asian republics and the Republic of Azerbaijan, repercussions of events in the Islamic world are watched closely in Moscow.
Despite further questioning, Gerasimov would not give details on what role the Soviets might play, but he said there would be a meeting between Shevardnadze and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker in Vienna next week.
In Moscow Monday, about 30 Soviet human rights activists carrying signs reading "Khomeini murderers" demonstrated peacefully against the death threat in front of the Iranian Embassy.
A firebomb Tuesday seriously damaged the New York offices of a Weekly newspaper that last week published an editorial fiercely defending British author Salman Rushdie. There were no injuries in the blaze at the Riverdale Press offices, police said. The one-alarm fire was under control about 45 minutes after it was reported.