The British government said Thursday it rejected an Iranian offer to discuss the controversy over Salman Rushdie until Tehran repudiates the threat against the author of "The Satanic Verses."
Ahkunzadeh Basti, Iran's former charge d'affaires in London, suggested in a telephone conversation with the British Foreign Office that the two countries talk about a resolution by the Iranian parliament requiring relations to be severed Monday unless London withdraws its support for Rushdie."When they called back, we said that we would prefer that they renounce the threat of violence first," a Foreign Office spokesman said.
Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency, however, gave a different account, saying it was Iran that rejected a request by the British Foreign Office for talks. The official news agency said the Iranian Foreign Ministry "has made it clear to the U.K. government that the need for talks does not arise since the Majlis position was quite clear."
The British government spokesman said Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe will meet in Vienna, Austria, on Monday with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, who has discussed the issue with Iranian leaders.
The Soviet news agency Tass defended the death sentence against Rushdie, an Indian-born Briton, issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini Feb. 14 for allegedly offending the Moslem prophet Mohammed.
In Moscow Wednesday, the news agency Tass suggested Khomeini, as a Moslem leader, had no choice but to sentence Rushdie to death. The Soviet Union, while expressing concern over the heightening of international tension over the Rushdie affair, has declined to equate Khomeini's death warrant against the author with terrorism.