|U.S. loosens sanctions on Iran||
TEHRAN – The United States relaxed sanctions on Iran on Tuesday to make it easier for U.S. humanitarian groups to work there and sports exchanges to occur between Americans and Iranians, a possible goodwill gesture after Iran elected a new moderate president, according to Reuters.
The move announced by the U.S. Treasury Department means non-profit groups focused on disaster relief, wildlife conservation, human rights and similar programs will no longer have to apply for special permission to enter Iran and conduct business there.
It also allows Iranian and U.S. athletes to pay for sports exchanges and matches between the two countries without a special application, which can help encourage exchanges, analysts say.
The United States and its European allies have ramped up tough measures against Iran in recent years to slow development of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, blacklisting a wide range of Iranian companies and government officials and curbing Iran’s oil exports.
Iran says its nuclear energy program is for electricity generation and medical uses only, rejecting Western accusations it is covertly trying to develop the capability to make nuclear weapons.
Iran’s election of a moderate, Hassan Rohani, as president this summer has raised some hopes for a resolution of the long-running dispute over the country’s nuclear activities.
“I would read this as a significant sign that the United States is pulling out the gestures that are available, and that the positive gestures from Rohani are begetting positive gestures from our side,” said Jamal Abdi, policy director at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), about the move on Tuesday.
“Particularly with the absence of direct diplomatic relations between the governments of the two countries, it’s really important that we do have channels for ordinary people to be communicating, and to get around the political difficulties,” he said.
The United States and Iran have had no diplomatic relations since 1980.
NIAC, a non-profit grassroots group, has long urged the U.S. government to ease restrictions on Iran that hurt ordinary citizens.
“This action further demonstrates this administration’s commitment to reinforcing ties between the Iranian and American people,” the U.S. Treasury said in a statement on Tuesday.
Sports exchanges in particular have some history of encouraging warmer diplomatic ties. The most famous example is the “ping-pong diplomacy” between the United States and China in 1971, when U.S. table tennis players were the first American athletes to set foot in Beijing in more than two decades.
U.S. diplomats found rare common ground with the Islamic Republic earlier this year over keeping wrestling as a sport in the Olympics, and Iranian wrestlers had a friendly match with their U.S. counterparts in May at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
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