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Britain Angered By Beating, Abduction Of Diplomat In Iran

May 30, 1987 GMT

LONDON (AP) _ An Iranian revolutionary group released a British diplomat in Tehran on Friday after Britain protested angrily that he was beaten and abducted at gunpoint in front of his wife and children 24 hours earlier.

In a diplomatic row, Iran protested what it called the ″illegal arrest″ of an Iranian consular official in Britain.

The Iranian was free on bail charged with shoplifting, reckless driving and resisting officers who arrested him Thursday. An Iranian diplomat claimed police tortured the official.

The Foreign Office rejected any link between the Iranian’s arrest and the abduction of British diplomat Edward Chaplin, 36, in Tehran.

″If there were any question of it being tit-for-tat it would be a disgraceful affair,″ Timothy Renton, a deputy foreign secretary, told reporters before a meeting with Iran’s top diplomat in London, Charge d’Affaires Akhunzadeh Basti, who was summoned to hear Britain’s demand for an explanation.

Basti said afterward: ″I don’t think there was a connection between these two incidents. It was a coincidence, you may say.″

He also said Chaplin probably would face charges, but gave no indication of what those charges might be.

Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) said Chaplin was seized by members of the Revolutionary Komiteh, an internal security force. It quoted the Komiteh’s public relations office as saying Chaplin was ″arrested for being a suspect, was temporarily released″ and his case would be ″referred to the responsible officials.″

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher expressed relief that Chaplin, the first secretary of the British Interest Section at Sweden’s Embassy in Tehran, had been released.

Chaplin did not suffer any broken bones in the beating and was ″as well as could be expected,″ the Foreign Office said.

Asked what the incident meant for relations between Britain and Iran, Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe said it was too early to reply. ″We shall have to find out more of what happened,″ he said.

Britain closed its embassy in Iran in 1980 following Iranian charges that Iranian students detained after a violent anti-American demonstration in London were ill-treated by prison guards.

The Foreign Office spokesman, who by custom is not identified, called Chaplin’s abduction a ″horrific incident.″

Chaplin was driving with his wife, 3-year-old daughter, infant son, and a colleague and another small child when a car stopped suddenly and caused a collision with his car. Six armed men got out, beat Chaplin, dragged him into their car and drove off, the spokesman said.

One gunman got into Chaplin’s car with his family and friends and drove off recklessly, finally stopping and leaving them, the Foreign Office spokesman said.

IRNA said Iran made two protests to Britain about the arrest of Ali Qassemi, a vice consul at Iran’s consulate in Manchester, northern England.

Qassemi, 29, was arrested May 9 and accused of shoplifting, British authorities said. The Foreign Office said Iran asserted Qassemi had full diplomatic immunity, but Britain felt he only had immunity while carrying out his official duties.

Police in Manchester said Qassemi failed to appear for a hearing Thursday, and police looking for him arrested him after a high-speed chase. He was released on bail late Thursday.

The Iranians said police beat and kicked Qassemi. Basti said he told Renton of ″the atrocities and the torture that was done on one of our people in Manchester. ... We are going to follow it up.″

British officials rejected the torture allegation. ″If there are such allegations my instant reaction would be that I am very surprised indeed,″ said Renton.

The sudden strain between Britain and Iran came amid suggestions that the Royal Navy might be asked to help the U.S. Navy provide protection for Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, where Iran and Iraq are at war.

Howe said the United States had not asked Britain for help in the gulf, where Britain has two frigates keeping an eye on British vessels in the war zone.

″I think any change that might be suggested from the present arrangements would need the utmost care and careful consideration,″ he said in a British Broadcasting Corp. interview.

Mrs. Thatcher said her Conservative Party government has received no formal request from the United States for assistance in defending Persian Gulf shipping, but told a news conference, ″Of course we would consider cooperation if those proposals are put to us.″

That view was not taken by a spokesman for the opposition Labor Party, former Defense Secretary Denis Healey. ″It would be disastrous for any other country to get involved with the United States in the gulf until we know what American policy really is,″ he said. ″It’s been darting around in all directions in recent months.″

Both Mrs. Thatcher and Healey spoke with reporters while on the campaign trail for Britain’s June 11 election.