LONDON, (AP) – The British Council said Thursday that it has suspended work in Iran because of what it calls intimidation by the authorities there.
The cultural arm of the British government 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.
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 U.K. and young people in Iran and the U.K. 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 U.K. at the very time when they can be of most value.”
Davidson said he hoped to meet Iranian authorities to work out a solution.
Iranian officials have yet to comment on the claims.
The British Council reopened its Tehran 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 Tehran 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 says its program is peaceful, but Western governments believe it is trying to develop nuclear weapons.