Iranian foreign minister wants British pullout from Basra

Iranian Foreign Minister Manushehr Mottaki called Friday for the immediate withdrawal of British forces from the southern Iraqi city of Basra , saying their presence had damaged security. Mottaki issued the call after a meeting with Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh.

"We believe that the presence of the British forces in Basra has destabilized security in this city and has had some negative effects in the form of threats against southern Iran recently," Mottaki said. "The Islamic Republic of Iran demands an immediate withdrawal of British forces from Basra ." Basra is about 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the Iranian border.

The call was apparently spurred by the recent publicity surrounding video images of what were purportedly British soldiers beating Iraqi youths with batons and fists and kicking them after a street confrontation in which young Iraqis threw things at the soldiers. The tape was aired in Britain and throughout the Middle East on Sunday and was said to have been of Jan. 10, 2004 riots in the southern Iraqi city of Amarah , about 100 miles from Basra .

Mottaki said the British forces has behaved in an "inhuman and immoral manner that constituted a flagrant violation of human rights" against young Iraqis. On Tuesday, protesters marched on the British Consulate in Basra , shouted anti-British slogans and burned a British Flag.

Iran also has accused Britain of involvement in two recent terrorist bombings in its Ahvaz , capital of oil-rich Khuzestan province on the southern border with Iraq . Iran has a Shiite Muslim majority as does neighboring Iraq and many in the west have voiced concern that Tehran , run by an Islamic theocracy, wants to have a major influence on decisions made in Baghdad .

The top Iranian diplomat also said the country had a "legitimate right" to posses nuclear technology and branded as "major lies" U.S. accusations that Iran was bent on secretly developing nuclear arms. He then said three European countries, Britain , France and Germany , that had earlier acknowledged Iran 's "legitimate, just, and natural right" to nuclear technology for civilian purposes had shifted their position under U.S. pressure.

On Thursday, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy accused Iran of secretly making nuclear weapons, and said: "No civilian nuclear program can explain the Iranian program. It is a clandestine military nuclear program." British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw also has said that "there are strong suspicions internationally that Iran may be seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability, but we do not have absolute proof”, reports the AP.


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