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Turning Back Iranians With Valid Us Visas: Is This The Way To Win The Hearts And Minds Of The Iranian People?

By Farzad Naeim and Najmedin Meshkati

Source: Sharif University of Technology Association (SUTA)

United States government could not have made its position towards the current Islamic Government of Iran clearer, even if it tried. The U.S. Administration's position, however, with respect to Iranian people is quite another story. If you sufficed to listening to the words uttered by those in charge, you would not doubt that the Administration has taken a rational approach to this issue. In his 2006 State of the Union address, President Bush said "Tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you, and we respect your country." Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary Rice advanced the objective of "increase[ing] the contacts between our peoples through expanded fellowships and scholarships for Iranian students."


What is the problem? Administration's words and acts sometimes conflict each other in such a confusing and embarrassing manner that you wonder whether you are dealing with a government based in Washington D.C., or one sitting in Tehran, Mogadishu or some other impoverished third-world country capital.

A recent example is sufficient to drive this point home. This Saturday and Sunday the worldwide reunion of the alumni of one of the most prestigious engineering universities of Iran and Middle East, takes place in Santa Clara, California. Many of the distinguished alumni of this college, the Sharif University of Technology, occupy prominent roles in the United States society. They are university professors, company executives, successful engineers, attorneys, and entrepreneurs. Tens of members of the alumni who reside in Iran applied for US visas to attend this reunion in United Sates. Many visas were granted. So far, so good. Have in mind that it is harder to find religious fanatics among this elite group of highly technical-mined professionals than it is to find the same in Berkeley, California. In addition, consider the fact that each one of them made at least two trips to outside Iran in order to obtain their entrance visas. One to fill the application and the other to receive the visa, a few weeks later, after the extensive background check by the several agencies of the Federal government were completed.

Despite all the nice rhetoric and words by the Administration, many of these legitimate reunion attendees have been denied entrance to the United states at the their port of entry (Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, for example) and returned back to Iran because the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is a bureau of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), officials claimed that the visas issued to them have been since canceled! If nothing else, this makes the response of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which by the way is also under the DHS, to Katrina hurricane smell like a rose bouquet. This has gone so far that the organizers of the reunion have been frantically issuing e-mails to potential attendees from Iran to change course and go back home before embarking towards the United States in order to avoid the humility of being denied arrival following their 18 hour flight.

Why do we have to make enemies out of our friends whose backgrounds have been thoroughly scrutinized and have been vetted for entering this country? Is this a way to win the "hearts and minds" of Iranians? Giving the benefit of the doubt to the President, whose words of respect "speak directly to the citizens of Iran" one could say that at least the deeds of his administration directly humiliate and hurt Iranians.

Farzad Naeim, a California licensed structural engineer and attorney, is Vice President and General Counsel for John A. Martin and Associates, one of the largest U.S. structural engineering consulting firms. He is an alumni of the Tehran University, USC and Concord.

Najmedin Meshkati is a professor at the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California (USC). He is an alumni of the Sharif University of Technology and USC.

... Payvand News - 8/9/06 ... --

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