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Iran Tells U.K. Not To Politicize British Council Closure

Gholamhossein Elham called on Britain not to take "political advantage" of the closure.
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran has told Britain not to politicize what it said was London's decision to close the Iranian offices of the British Council, the U.K. government's cultural arm.

Iranian government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham told a news conference that London probably chose to halt the council's operations for economic reasons and said Iran had not stopped the council's work even though it did not have a permit.

The British Council said it had suspended its operations, effective January 31, because of intimidation of its local staff.

"The British Council did not have a permit...but still the Iranian government did not prevent it [working]. The British themselves closed it down," Elham said.

BBC News had quoted British Council chief executive Martin Davidson as saying most of its 16 local employees had been summoned to the Iranian Office of the President in December, where they were ordered to resign from their posts.

Despite saying Iran had not hindered the council's work, Elham said Iran had a right to be involved in issues related to employment of its citizens. He did not elaborate.

"This issue is related to the Iranian [employees] and it is related to the country's domestic system. Anybody can make a decision about its own citizens," he said.

But he told Britain not to politicize the issue.

"Maybe it was because of economic problems these days that they had to pack up and then make it a political issue, which is another topic," Elham said.

"We do not know what problem they have. It would be a mistake if they want to solve other issues by using this issue. They cannot take political advantage of this," he added.

Britain is among world powers urging Iran to comply with UN demands over its nuclear program, including halting uranium enrichment. Iran says its program is for power generation, not building an atomic bomb as the West suspects.

Britain is often viewed with suspicion in Iran for its involvement in Iranian politics when it was an imperial power.

The British Council reopened in Tehran in 2001. Since then it has staged the first Western theatre production and the first exhibition of Western sculpture in Iran for more than 25 years.

In recent years, the British Council came under pressure as Anglo-Russian relations deteriorated. Russia forced the closure of some regional offices, saying they were not legal, and tax inspectors filed claims against it, although a Russian court later threw out most of the claims.