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Published: Wednesday January 29, 2014 MYT 2:20:02 AM
Updated: Wednesday January 29, 2014 MYT 2:21:15 AM

Iranian lawmakers to visit Britain as diplomatic ties improve

LONDON (Reuters) - Iranian parliamentarians will come to London in the next few months, the first such visit in years, as Iran and Britain try to improve their damaged relations, a group of British MPs said on Tuesday.

The visit was agreed during a trip to Iran this month by a four-man delegation from the British parliament that met Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and senior MPs.

"We formally invited the Iranian Majlis (parliament) and they formally accepted," Jeremy Corbyn, a Labour parliamentarian who was in the delegation, told Reuters, adding that a date had yet to be finalised but that it would be before the summer.

Britain severed direct diplomatic relations with Iran after activists stormed its embassy in Tehran more than two years ago.

However, the election of a relative moderate, President Hassan Rouhani, paved the way for a thaw in ties which has helped Tehran strike a preliminary agreement about its disputed nuclear programme with six world powers, including Britain.

Britain appointed a non-resident charge d'affaires to Iran in November, reviving direct ties, a step mirrored by Tehran. The British parliamentary delegation, led by former Foreign Scretary Jack Straw, visited Tehran from January 6 to 10.

During a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday, the four MPs said they had inspected the disused British embassy in Tehran. It was closed in 2011 after a rally against British sanctions turned violent and protesters scaled the walls, ransacked offices and burned buildings.

They said its walls were daubed with graffiti reading "Down with the English" but that they thought it could be restored to full working order fairly quickly providing the Iranian authorities provided assurances about the future staff safety.

"This won't get any easier the longer we leave it," said Straw. "There's a window (of opportunity)". He said the British government should make it a high priority to get staff working there again.

Straw said such a step could help British business people revive trade ties with Iran despite international sanctions, something he said their counterparts in Western Europe were doing already.

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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