UK pledges support for Iran's war on drugs
TEHRAN, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Mo Mowlam, the first British cabinet minister to visit the Islamic Republic of Iran, pledged British support on Sunday for Tehran's battle against drug trafficking and addiction.
With a long history of intervention in Iran still fresh in the minds of many Iranians, London has to move more cautiously than most to build relations with Tehran and avoid the charge of interfering in domestic affairs.
Drugs are seen as a non-controversial issue on which both sides' interests coincide and where progress can be made.
"Although Iran and the UK have many cultural differences, one of the things our countries have in common is a serious drug problem," Mowlam said in a news release.
Mowlem coordinates different ministries' work within the British cabinet, and combating drug abuse is one of her particular responsibilities.
Iran, sandwiched between the world's biggest drug producer Afghanistan and transit routes to Europe through Turkey and the former Soviet Union, seized 90 percent of all opium and 45 percent of all heroin and morphine confiscated worldwide last year.
But the country is still struggling to cope with the sheer volume of smuggling and an ever-burgeoning domestic drug problem. Iran has more than two million addicts and casual users in a population of around 63 million.
The authorities have intensified the war on drugs in recent months, fighting daily battles with drug traffickers along its border with Afghanistan.
A police official said on Sunday more than 200 drug smugglers had been arrested in a sting operation on Saturday in Khak-e Sefid, a drug-infested district east of the capital.
He said the district, an underdeveloped area populated by poor immigrants, supplied half a tonne of drugs a day to users in Tehran, which has a population of 10 million.
Gholamreza Ansari, head of Iran's Welfare Organisation, said the country had a 4,000-history of drug use.
"Addiction has no short-term treatment," he told the opening of a seminar on drugs. "We need long-term solutions."
Iran has enlisted international help to erect large walls and dig deep trenches to trap the traffickers along its eastern border, while thousands of troops patrol the rugged mountains and vast deserts of its frontier.
"I recognise that you are doing a magnificent job interrupting drug-smuggling into Europe and UK," Mowlam told the seminar.
Mowlam announced Britain was contributing a further 78,000 pounds to help U.N. anti-drug programmes in Iran adding to 2.67 million already given. The two countries are due to sign a memorandum of understanding on drugs on Monday.
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