2004Edition>News Center>World

Britain Prince Charles arrives in Iran on historic visit
Updated: 2004-02-09 10:04

Britain's Prince Charles arrived in Iran on Sunday, becoming the first member of the British royal family to visit the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution which toppled Iranian monarch Mohammad Reza Shah.

Charles, who was welcomed at Tehran's Mehrabad airport by British Ambassador Richard Dalton, will meet Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on Monday before traveling to the ancient southeastern citadel city of Bam, struck by an earthquake on December 26 that killed more than 40,000 people.

Britain's Prince Charles is escorted by Iranian security officials as he gets into a car at Tehran's Mehrabad airport Feburary 8, 2004.  [Reuters]
Earlier on Sunday Charles visited Iraq, where he met British troops based in the southern city of Basra and listened to prominent Iraqi officials discuss a range of political and economic problems plaguing the country.

British officials stressed that Charles' visit to Iran, which comes at a time of great political tension in a country once listed by U.S. President Bush as a member of an "axis of evil," was a purely humanitarian trip focused on Bam.

"Prince Charles is patron of the British Red Cross and he is coming in that role," said Andrew Dunn, press officer at the British Embassy in Tehran.

"It's a completely non-political visit," he said.

Diplomats said such a trip would have been unthinkable five years ago before relations between the countries improved as Iran began a reform process and Britain adopted a more conciliatory approach.

Britain, along with fellow European Union members France and Germany, are following a policy of engagement with Tehran, in contrast to the line of isolation pursued by the United States.

The last official visit to Iran by members of the British royal family was in 1971 when Queen Elizabeth's husband Prince Philip and her daughter Princess Anne attended the shah's celebrations of the 2,500th anniversary of the Peacock Throne.

London and Tehran have had a rocky relationship since the 1979 Islamic revolution, typified by accusations of spying, tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions and mutual distrust.

The two countries currently have full diplomatic ties but the British Embassy compound in central Tehran was last year the target of shootings and an apparent attempted suicide attack by a truck laden with extra fuel.

Like most of its European Union partners and staunch ally the United States, Britain has criticized Iran for covering up sensitive nuclear research, supporting militant groups which carry out attacks on Israel and flagrant human rights abuses.

Charles' visit comes as Iran is embroiled in its worst political crisis for years over parliamentary elections due to take place later this month.

An unelected hardline watchdog body with sweeping powers has barred more than 2,000 aspiring candidates from standing in the vote, provoking outrage among allies of pro-reform President Khatami.

The visit also coincides with celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's foundation of the Islamic state.

Despite its humanitarian focus, Charles' visit is bound to raise eyebrows in a country where many people subscribe to the popular myth that London cunningly controls events in Iran and even masterminded the 1979 Islamic revolution.

  Today's Top News     Top World News

Central bank denies rumors of RMB revaluation



Bush: 'I expected to find the weapons'



Policies to boost farmers' income



State inspections tighten flu stranglehold



Beauty comes at a price and risk


  UN team meets with Iraq council
  Anti-Aristide revolt spreads, looting begins
  Arab newspaper says al Qaeda has Ukrainian nukes
  Blix says Bush, Blair insincere salesmen on Iraq
  Britain Prince Charles arrives in Iran on historic visit
  Police hunt missing Russian presidential hopeful
  Go to Another Section  
  Story Tools  
  Related Stories  
Charles surprises troops in Iraq
Former servant defends Prince Charles
Prince Charles huddles with inner circle as "sex affair" nags on
Charles returns to UK media frenzy
Britons kept in the dark about Charles scandal
  News Talk  
  The evil root of all instability in the world today