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Britain 'Regrets' Halting Council Operations in Iran


Britain is expressing "great regret" that it had to close its cultural center in Tehran because of what it called "unacceptable pressure" by the Iranian government.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Thursday that British Council work is "completely non-political." He said his regrets that "a country with Iran's culture should reject attempts to break down barriers and build cultural dialogue," adding, "the people of Iran do not want to be isolated from the world."

The British Council, the cultural arm of the British government, issued a statement Wednesday saying it halted work in Tehran on January 31 because its staff was intimidated by Iranian authorities.

The council says the decision came after Iranian authorities summoned most of the 16 local employees for interviews last December, and then suggested they resign.

The cultural organization says two staff members had their passports confiscated after they tried to leave Iran for a meeting.

The British Council's chief executive, Martin Davidson, said the Iranian actions were unacceptable and designed to pressure council staff into stopping cultural and educational work in Iran. He said he hoped the council could reach agreement with Iran, so work could resume.

The council first set up office in Iran in 1942, but closed in 1979 after the Islamic Revolution. It reopened in 2001, at the request of Iranian officials.

The British Council says it helped stage the first Western theater production in Iran, and the first exhibition of Western modern art in 25 years.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.