PRIME Minister John Major met with Salman Rushdie on Tuesday in Britain's strongest show of support for the author since the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned him to death in 1989.
The two met for about 30 minutes in Mr. Major's office at the House of Commons. Iran had warned that it and other Muslim countries would curtail trade with Britain if the meeting occurred.
"This is the most important day of the campaign against the fatwa so far," Rushdie told reporters, referring to the religious edict that has forced him to live in hiding guarded by police.
Rushdie said the meeting "will send a message around the world, both to our allies and to the government of Iran."
A spokeswoman in Major's office said Major had affirmed his government's full support for Rushdie's rights as a citizen and expressed regret that Iran had not repudiated the edict.
Khomeini's decree condemned Rushdie to death for blaspheming Islam in his novel "The Satanic Verses." An Iranian charity has offered nearly $2 million in rewards for his death.
Britain relied on quiet diplomacy over the Rushdie affair while Westerners were held hostage by Muslim fundamentalists in Lebanon. Once they were released in 1992, the government pursued a more active policy.
"Now that the British government has decided to get noisy, I confidently expect their allies to follow," Rushdie said.
But despite his optimism, he did not speculate on when Iran might drop the death sentence. He left with armed guards to return to a secret address.