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UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar confirms that Iran is helping in the massive diplomatic effort under way to gain the freedom of all hostages being held in the Middle East. It's in Iran's interest, the UN chief said recently, because Iranians are held hostage as well. In recent years, whenever Iran has been accused of involvement in hostage-seizing, Iranian officials have retorted that three Iranian diplomats were also abducted a few years ago in Beirut by unknown assailants - most probably Lebanese Christian militiamen. It is believed that the three Iranians were killed soon after their capture, and Iran has asked, if that is so, for the return of their bodies.

Iranian diplomats at the UN predict that when newly installed President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani appoints his Cabinet, hard-line Interior Minister Ali Akbar Mohtashemi will be replaced. Mr. Mohtashemi has been in charge of Iran's contacts with Hizbullah in Lebanon.

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They also say that a new ambassador will be presenting his credentials at the UN within the next two weeks. As Iran still has no diplomatic relations with Washington, their UN ambassador is also the senior Iranian official in the US.

The appointee, Dr. Kamal Kharrazi, was nominated by former President Ali Khamenei and confirmed by President Rafsanjani. He has studied in the US and holds a doctorate in education. He has been a deputy foreign minister and was recently head of the Iranian news agency, IRNA.

Iran's previous ambassador, Mohammad Jaafar Mahallati, left his post in New York under mysterious circumstances. Some reports say that he was recalled and imprisoned. But the official version is that he became ill, and has recently recovered.

Iranian diplomats say that they have heard through friends that Ambassador Mahallati is now working with the Strategic Studies Center, an office connected with the Foreign Ministry.

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