Page last updated at 22:03 GMT, Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Iran's aversion to foreign influences

President Ahmadinejad in Tehran, 1 Feb
Some freedoms have been eroded since Mr Ahmadinejad took office

The British Council has announced it is suspending operations in Iran following what it says is intimidation by the Iranian government. The BBC's Jon Leyne in Tehran examines Iran's attitude towards external cultural influences.

The British Council says pressure from the Iranian government has been growing for the past two years.

Iran, particularly under the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been very suspicious of foreign cultural influences.

There has been heavy criticism by the government and official media of the new Persian TV service launched by the BBC.

Other British correspondents have been expelled or not granted visas.

Sporting exchanges have also been restricted.

An American badminton team who had been due to play in a tournament in Iran this week travelled to Dubai, only to find they could not get Iranian visas.

Since Mr Ahmadinejad took power, there has been a steady restriction of academic freedom at the universities.

And in recent months, a new crackdown has seen a campaign against the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights lawyer, Shirin Ebadi.

'Closed fist'

Part of the reason may be nervousness before Mr Ahmadinejad runs for re-election in June.

But this is also a government that has turned up the rhetoric on its foreign adversaries, such as the United States and Britain.

It is not a hugely promising atmosphere for US President Barack Obama's new initiative, designed to re-open direct negotiations with the Islamic Republic.

Indeed Mr Obama's recent call for Iran to "unclench its fist" was met with a tough response from President Ahmadinejad.

There's nothing at the moment to suggest Mr Ahmadinejad is ready to offer his outstretched hand in return.

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