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Britain expels Iranians over Rushdie

LONDON -- The Foreign Office on Friday ordered three Iranians to leave the country amid allegations they were involved in a plot to carry out the 3-year-old Islamic death sentence ordered against author Salman Rushdie.

The three Iranians -- two of of whom were employed at the Iranian Embassy in London and the third who was in the country on a student visa -- were given seven days to leave the United Kingdom or face deportation.

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Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke approved the deportation plan because 'their continued presence in the United Kingdom is not conducive to the public good for reasons of national security,' the Home Office said Friday.

The statement made no direct reference to Rushdie, although government sources said the three Iranians were suspected of involvement in a plot to assassinate Rushdie, who became the object of an Islamic death sentence over his novel 'The Satanic Verses.'

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The embassy employees were identified as Mehdi Sayed Sadeghi and Mahmoud Medhi Soltani, and the student was identified as Gassem Vakhshiteh.

One embassy employee worked in the passport section and the other served in its press and public relations office.

Rushdie, under government-funded police protection, has been making a series of public engagements in recent months. Sources said the three Iranians have come close enough to Rushdie to be observed by his bodyguards.

The acting Iranian charge d'affaires, Ali Asghar Farshchi, was summoned to the Foreign Office to be told of the order, but the Iranian Embassy afterward denied the charges and accused Britain of ordering 'tit-for-tat' expulsions.

Its reference was to Geoffrey Brammer, 27, a third secretary at the British embassy in Tehran, who was ordered earlier in the week to leave Iran over accusations that he had been spying.

The British Foreign Office said in a statement its order Friday had no connection with Brammer's expulsion but were the result of 'painstaking investigations which pre-dated Brammer's detention.'

The statement also said that since none of the three Iranians named Friday were diplomats, Britain still reserved the right to expel an Iranian diplomat from London in exchange for Brammer.

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Asked if the deportations were likely to affect resumed diplomatic relations with Iran, a British Foreign Office spokeswoman said: 'This development shows the relationship continues to be a difficult one.

'We should like to see an improvement in relations but this depends on Iran,' she said.

The spokeswoman, in declining to comment the alleged plot to assassinate Rushdie, said only that the Foreign Office believed the Iranian government respected international law.

'It was our understanding from public statements made by Iranian officials that the Iranian government respected international law and would not interfere in the internal affairs of any other country any more than the U.K. would interefere in the internal affairs of any other country,' she said.

'The Satanic Verses' is a fictional account based on the life of the Prophet Muhammed, the seventh-century founder of Islam, that Iranian leaders and other Muslims regard as blasphemy.

The late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a 'fatwa,' or Islamic religious edict, in February 1989, several months after the book was published, calling on Muslims worldwide to hunt down and kill Rushdie.

Carmel Bedford, head of the Rushdie Defense Campaign, a London group campaigning for the lifting of the fatwa, praised Friday's expulsion order, saying the group was 'delighted that our security is so effective.'

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