Cyrus the Great artifact to go on display in Iran after tussle with British Museum

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A Babylonian artifact sometimes described as the world's first human rights charter is to go on display in Iran after the government threatened to cut ties with the British Museum if it did not loan the object.

The Cyrus Cylinder is a sixth century B.C. clay object inscribed with an account in cuneiform of the conquest of Babylon by the Persian King Cyrus the Great. It arrived in Iran on Friday and will go on display in the coming days at Iran's National Museum for four months, state TV reported.

Iran said it was in a dispute with the British Museum for months over its request for a loan of the object and repeatedly threatened to cut ties with the institution. At one point, a senior Iranian cultural official accused the museum of turning a cultural issue into a political issue.

The loan discussions, which began in October, took place during a time of tension between the two countries. Tehran is under pressure from the West over its nuclear program, and it has accused Britain and other foreign governments of interfering in its domestic policies and of stoking the street protests that followed the disputed presidential election in June 2009.

The British Museum has said it acted in good faith throughout the negotiations and has a policy of cultural exchanges with other nations that are independent of political considerations.

In a statement released Friday, the British Museum said that "although political relations between Iran and the U.K. are at the moment difficult ... it is all the more important to maintain the cultural links which have been so carefully built up over a period of years and which could in themselves lead to a better relationship."

The object's inscription describes how Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. and captured the last Babylonian king.

It also tells of how he then freed many people held captive by the Babylonians and arranged for them to return to their homelands. It does not mention the Jews brought to Babylon as slaves by Nebuchadnezzar, but their freedom was also part of that policy.

State TV said a delegation from the British Museum accompanied the artifact and another British expert would soon arrive to facilitate its display.

The Cyrus Cylinder is often called the world's oldest human rights document, but it was common in Mesopotamia for kings to begin their rule with such reform declarations, according to the British Museum.