TEHRAN, (Reuters) – A committee in Iran’s parliament voted on Sunday to cut diplomatic relations with Britain, a day after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for “cooperation” with major powers.
The decision by parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, reported by the semi-official Fars news agency, follows criticism by Britain’s ambassador to Tehran of Iran’s human rights record.
“After voting by the members of the committee, it was decided to have diplomatic relations completely severed with Britain,” Fars quoted lawmaker Mohammad Karami-rad as saying.
If the motion is backed by the full parliament it would put pressure on the government to downgrade relations with Britain at a time when a new foreign minister has called for “positive interaction” with the European Union.
Parliament speaker Ali Larijani has been a rival of Ahmadinejad’s since losing to him at the 2005 presidential election and the replacement of the foreign minister has fuelled tensions between the two men.
British Ambassador Simon Gass was summoned to the Iranian foreign ministry on Monday after criticising Iran’s human rights record in an article on the embassy’s website.
Britain maintains a full embassy in Tehran unlike its ally the United States which has no relations with Iran.
Gass dismissed criticisms from lawmakers. “MPs claim to be offended by my Human Rights Day statement. But Iranian leaders regularly abuse other countries including UK,” he said in a message posted on Twitter.
Foreign policy – which is decided by Iran’s Supreme National Security Council in line with the views of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – has become a battleground in a power struggle between Ahmadinejad and a parliament concerned that the president is amassing too much power.
The latest sign of that was Ahmadinejad’s abrupt sacking of Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Monday while he was on a visit to Africa.
Larijani said the move offended Mottaki’s dignity. Mottaki himself, a close ally of Larijani, said the manner of his sacking was “un-Islamic, undiplomatic, offensive and outside the practices of politics.”
Analysts said that by ejecting Mottaki from the cabinet, Ahmadinejad had excluded the “traditional conservative” faction of which Larijani is a leading light.
Mottaki’s caretaker replacement, Ali Akbar Salehi, used his inaugural address on Saturday to reach out to the EU, calling for “positive interaction” with the bloc of which Britain is one of the biggest members.
While analysts say they expect no significant policy change after Mottaki’s sacking, the more positive rhetoric could herald a greater willingness to engage in talks with global powers – including Britain – concerned about Iran’s nuclear programme.
Sunday’s committee vote against Britain showed parliament may not be so keen on any such rapprochement.