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Date:22 June 2012

Author: Rick Gladstone/The New York Times

British and Iranian Officials Meet to Discuss Rift

Voice of Freedom :The foreign ministers of Britain and Iran conferred on the sidelines of a security conference in Afghanistan on Thursday, the highest-level contact between the two nations since relations were nearly severed after protesters in Tehran overran and pillaged the British Embassy and a diplomatic residence in November.

Britain's Foreign Office, which reported the meeting between Foreign Secretary William Hague and his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, said in a statement that the meeting had been convened at Mr. Salehi's request. The official Islamic Republic News Agency of Iran said nothing about who had initiated the meeting but reported that the agenda included the Syria conflict, Iranians living in Britain and the coming talks on Irans disputed nuclear program, to be held in Moscow.

Mr. Hague ordered relations with Iran to be downgraded to the lowest level short of a formal break after the embassy assault, which Britain accused the Iranian authorities of approving and directing. British diplomats left Iran, and Iranian diplomats were expelled from Britain.

Iran expressed regret for the assault but called it a spontaneous outburst by students understandably angered by impending economic penalties imposed by Britain and the United States over the nuclear dispute. Nonetheless, Iran was widely criticized over the protest, which evoked memories of the takeover of the American Embassy after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Even friendly countries chided Iran for allowing the ransacking of the British Embassy, and the episode may have hastened the European Unions decision to impose an embargo on Iranian oil to further press Iran over the nuclear dispute. That embargo, set to formally take effect July 1, has already hurt Irans ability to sell oil, its most important export.

Britain is a member of the so - called P5-plus-1 group of countries - the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany - which has been pressing Iran to suspend its enrichment of uranium in accordance with four Security Council resolutions. Iran has argued that it has a legal right to enrich uranium and insists that such activity is for peaceful purposes, despite suspicions by Western countries and Israel that Iran is seeking the ability to make nuclear weapons.

Britain's Foreign Office said that Mr. Hague spoke to Mr. Salehi about the embassy assault and that both men expressed hope that their countries "could move soon to confirm the appointment of formal protecting powers in each other's capitals" - a reference to the appointment of third countries to look after Iranian interests in Britain and vice versa.

The expression of such a hope in itself appeared to reflect a lack of movement, and spoke to the deep freeze in Iranian-British relations that has prevailed since the embassy assault.

The Foreign Office also said Mr. Hague told Mr. Salehi that members of the P5-plus-1 group were united in their approach in the nuclear dispute and had made what he called a "credible offer to Iran," putting the onus on the Iranians to respond.

The last meeting on the nuclear dispute, held in Baghdad last month, ended with no substantive progress. The P5-plus-1 group demanded that Iran immediately halt production of uranium refined to 20 percent purity, which is considered a short technical step from bomb-grade fuel. Iran had demanded that the countries acknowledge its right to enrich uranium and ease Western sanctions as a first step.

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