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Britain Replacing U.S. as Iran's Favorite Target

In every Iranian crisis, the BBC has come in for blame, perhaps in part because of its history in Iran. "BBC Persian service has a very specific position in Iran -- it was created in 1941 to help with the overthrow of Reza Shah," Ansari said. By the late 1970s, however, "it played a role that was at odds with the British government. . . . It gave Khomeini a lot more airtime than they thought was useful or helpful," he said, referring to the late ayatollah and leader of the revolution.

Still, many in Iran find it hard to separate the BBC from the British government. The station's popularity there has stoked suspicion, as has its recent introduction of Farsi-language satellite television service.

"Because the BBC is seen as having been so important during the revolution, with the fact that the BBC is opening a new channel of communication, there's a feeling that perhaps the BBC is gearing up for a new revolution," said Dick Davis, a professor of Persian at Ohio State University.

Ervand Abrahamian, a history professor at the City University of New York's Baruch College, agreed, adding that by blacking out local media now as in 1978, today's rulers "are doing the same thing the shah was doing."

In this case, however, the focus on the BBC and the British government could also be part of a broader political strategy by Iranian leaders, some analysts said. After years of antagonism, the United States would be a key player in any future negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, and blaming America for the current crisis could hurt those prospects.

"The U.S., after all, is the big prize that the Iranians are after," Boroujerdi said, "and they basically neglect the Europeans because they feel that the U.S. is the big kid that they have to talk to."

President Obama's international popularity could also be a factor. "I think they have real problems with Obama," Abrahamian said. "He has offered major concessions, and they haven't really replied to that."

But even if the U.S. role as the Great Satan is being played down, that does not mean it has lost the title, Boroujerdi said.

"Great Britain seems to be the flavor of the month right now. . . . But I don't think that anyone can take comfort that the flavor of the month has changed; it can change again at a moment's notice."


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