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British Cultural Body Suspends Operations in Iran

The British Council, the United Kingdom's worldwide cultural body, said it is suspending operations in Iran after its staff members were unable to gain entry visas. The organization also said its local employees have been singled out for intimidation by authorities in Tehran.

Most of the 16 Iranians who were working in the council were summoned to the Office of the Iranian President in December and were ordered to resign their posts.

Iranian actions 'deliberate'

The Council's London-based chief executive Martin Davidson told the BBC the actions of the authorities have been deliberate, and the council simply could no longer operate under those conditions.

"It makes me very angry that dedicated colleagues are put in a position where they are, in essence, forced to resign. It means that they give up their jobs. It means that they are no longer able to build the relationship with the U.K. which they had been doing for a number of years with huge dedication," Davidson said.

The British Council resumed work in the country in 2001 after a break of 22 years.

Mr. Davidson said by definition, cultural exchanges go both ways.

"They appear to be looking for a cultural relationship with the U.K., but a cultural relationship which is one-way only and you cannot do that. Ultimately we cannot afford a one-way street in a cultural relation," he explained.

Iranians 'nervous' before national elections

Some analysts speculate that nervousness about perceived foreign cultural influences in the months before upcoming Iranian national elections may have something to do with the actions.

Davidson said he hopes an agreement with the Iranian authorities can be struck so the British Council can resume its work in the country as soon as possible.

"Really what worries me is that there are no winners out of this situation as staff lose their jobs," Davidson noted. " Iranians who are looking to build a stronger relationship and personal opportunities through coming to the U.K. either for study or learning English or building academic links are not able to do so. Here in the U.K. we are losing the opportunity to build relationships with young Iranians who are going to be essential for our long-term future relationship with our country because no matter what happens politically now, at some point in the future we are going to be a strong partner for Iran and we will need those relationships."

The council operates in more than 100 countries worldwide.

The organization said last year about 13,000 Iranians took part in its programs that included English lessons and university-level study and research partnerships.