Visit Iran? US com­pany says yes, de­spite ar­rests

There’s a lot to in­ter­est trav­el­ers

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

DUBAI: It is home to beau­ti­ful moun­tains, breath­tak­ing his­tor­i­cal build­ings and price­less art­work - but it’s also the sub­ject of strongly worded US State Depart­ment warn­ings. For Amer­i­cans, Iran may not be the first place that comes to mind when plan­ning a va­ca­tion, even decades af­ter the 1979 US Em­bassy takeover fol­low­ing the coun­try’s Islamic Rev­o­lu­tion. “Death to Amer­ica!” can still be heard at hard­line mosques and protests, and Ira­ni­ans with West­ern ties can face ar­bi­trary ar­rest.

How­ever, one lux­ury tour com­pany in the US is pro­mot­ing a new trip to the coun­try for those will­ing to take the risk, de­scrib­ing it as the first op­por­tu­nity to see an Iran open­ing up to the West af­ter last year’s nu­clear deal. “We feel that Iran is one of the most ex­cit­ing places that some­one can travel to at this point in time, given the cur­rent cli­mate in the coun­try and what sort of changes have been tak­ing place re­cently,” said Ste­fanie Sch­mudde, prod­uct man­ager of Amer­i­cas and Mid­dle East for the Down­ers Grove, Illi­nois-based tour com­pany Aber­crom­bie & Kent.

On pa­per, there’s a lot to in­ter­est trav­el­ers. The United Na­tions cul­ture agency lists 21 World Her­itage sites in Iran. They in­clude the ru­ins of Perse­po­lis and Pasar­gadae, the mosques and palace at Mei­dan Emam of Is­fa­han, and other sites in­cluded on the Illi­nois com­pany’s 12-day tour from $5,600. Iran has long drawn Shi­ite pil­grims to its holy sites, but lo­cal skiers and snow­board­ers also boast of its slopes, and the cap­i­tal, Tehran, en­joys a grow­ing mod­ern art scene. Iran says around 5 mil­lion tourists visit each year most com­ing from Iraq and other neigh­bor­ing coun­tries. Euro­peans have been com­ing to Iran, but Amer­i­cans rep­re­sent far less than 1 per­cent of all tourists. Many are doubt­less stay­ing away be­cause they as­so­ciate Iran with Mid­dle East con­flicts and anti-Amer­i­can rhetoric. But the Ira­nian gov­ern­ment, which is deeply sus­pi­cious of US in­ten­tions, has also made it dif­fi­cult for Amer­i­cans to se­cure tourism visas. Sch­mudde, who re­cently re­turned from a trip to Iran, com­pares the cur­rent open­ing to what is tak­ing place in Cuba, which un­like Iran has re­stored full diplo­matic re­la­tions with the US “There’s so few places that don’t have a strong Amer­i­can in­flu­ence, and Iran is one of those places,” she said. “You do get the sense you’re step­ping into an­other world, and that makes it com­pletely fas­ci­nat­ing to a trav­eler.” The State Depart­ment has a very dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. “Ira­nian au­thor­i­ties con­tinue to un­justly de­tain and im­prison US ci­ti­zens, par­tic­u­larly Ira­nian-Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing stu­dents, jour­nal­ists, busi­ness trav­el­ers and aca­demics, on charges in­clud­ing es­pi­onage and pos­ing a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity,” its Au­gust travel warn­ing reads . “US ci­ti­zens trav­el­ing to Iran should very care­fully weigh the risks of travel and con­sider post­pon­ing.”

Se­cu­rity

While Amer­i­can diplo­matic posts over­seas tend to see se­cu­rity as a glass half-empty, or even shat­tered on the floor, their con­cern in this case is rea­son­able. Iran and the US haven’t had for­mal diplo­matic re­la­tions since 1979, and a new round of ar­rests by hard­line fac­tions within Iran’s se­cu­rity ser­vices is tar­get­ing those with West­ern ties in the wake of the nu­clear ac­cord. Sch­mudde ac­knowl­edged those con­cerns and said any jour­nal­ists, peo­ple associated with the US gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary per­son­nel ask­ing about the trip would be warned in ad­vance.

IS­FA­HAN, Iran: In this May 10, 2006 file photo, Ira­nian women wear the chador as they pass a tourist.

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