British Council suspends work in Iran

Cultural arm of British government cites intimidation by authorities in Islamic Republic.

Miliband speaks to AP 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Miliband speaks to AP 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The cultural arm of the British government said Thursday that it has suspended work in Iran because of what it calls intimidation by the authorities there. The British Council said in a statement that it halted operations after "cases of intimidation of our local staff in Iran." The council said all 16 of its local staff had been summoned to a meeting at the Iranian president's office in December and told to resign. British Council chief executive Martin Davidson said that no British staff had been able to get visas to work in Iran for two years. He said that without staff the council office had to close as of Jan. 31. Davidson called the Iranian authorities' actions unacceptable. "There are no winners here," he said. "Our staff in Iran have lost their jobs, our Iranian partners have lost opportunities to work with the UK and young people in Iran and the UK have lost the chance to build links that can last a lifetime. "I am disappointed that the Iranian authorities have chosen to cut educational and cultural ties with the UK at the very time when they can be of most value." Davidson said he hoped to meet Iranian authorities to work out a solution, and Foreign Secretary David Miliband urged Iranian officials to reconsider. "It is a matter of great regret that a country with Iran's culture should reject attempts to break down barriers and build cultural dialogue," Miliband said. "The people of Iran do not want to be isolated from the world," he added. "So I hope the Iranian government will enable the British Council to resume normal operations as soon as possible." Iranian officials have yet to comment. The British Council reopened its Teheran office in 2001 after a 22-year break following the 1979 Islamic revolution. It says 13,000 Iranians took part in English lessons and other programs it ran in Teheran last year. As an arm of the British government, the council has sometimes fallen victim to tensions between Britain and other countries. In 2007, amid chilly relations between London and Moscow over the killing of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, Russia ordered the council to close its regional offices in the country. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also accused the group of spying. Britain has joined the United States in calling Iran's nuclear program a threat to world security. Iran insists its nuclear program is designed for peaceful purposes, such as producing electricity, but Western governments believe it is trying to develop nuclear weapons. They have offered a mix of sanctions and inducements to try to persuade Iran to abandon the program. Iran launched an Omid satellite on Monday - a move that touched off concerns among experts in Europe, the United States and Israel about the potential of links between its satellite program and its work with missiles and nuclear technology.