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US Invites Iranian Wrestlers for Pre-Olympic Training

By David Gollust, VOA, State Department

The State Department says Iranian wrestlers are being invited to the United States to train with American wrestlers for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. It says efforts are under way to increase the limited sports exchanges between the two countries. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here say an invitation has gone out to the Iranian wrestling federation for the joint training exercise, as part of what could be a broader set of sports exchanges with the Iranians.

An American team of about 20 free-style wrestlers and coaches took part in mid-January in the Takhti Cup competition in Bandar Abbas, Iran - considered that country's premier wrestling event.

State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said USA Wrestling, the organization that oversees amateur wrestling in the United States, has issued an invitation for a reciprocal visit by Iranians, who would engage in joint training with Americans at U.S. Olympic facilities:

"To my knowledge, the Iranians have not accepted this invitation," said Tom Casey. "But we sincerely hope the Iranian regime will allow them to travel to the U.S. As you know, the President [Bush] has called for expanded people-to-people exchanges with Iran. And our invitation to Iranian Olympic athletes is directed at increasing mutual understanding between the peoples of the two countries."

The January tournament in Bandar Abbas marked the first time American wrestlers had been to Iran since hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, and the already-limited unofficial contacts between the countries diminished.

There had been regular wrestling exchanges during the term of Mr. Ahmadinejad's predecessor, Mohammad Khatami.

A spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee in Denver said Wednesday the organization is also in preliminary talks with Iran on bringing Iranian rowers to the United States for pre-Olympic training sessions.

Iran's official news agency, IRNA, reported that invitations for sports visits to the United States were under consideration by the country's national Olympic committee.

The American wrestlers who went to Iran in January said they were very warmly received. Iranian wrestlers dominated the competition, as expected, though U.S. competitors came away with four medals including one first-place gold-medal finish.

The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, though there has been some interaction between the two countries' diplomats over the years, including at a conference on Iraq in Baghdad last month.

Officials here do not rule out contact between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Iranian counterpart at a follow-up Iraq neighbors conference next week in Egypt, though it is unclear whether Iran will take part.

The Bush administration has said it is ready to take part in an open-ended political dialogue with Iran, if it agrees to stop enriching uranium and returns to negotiations over its nuclear program.

... Payvand News - 4/26/07 ... --

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