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Opinions Aired During US-Iran Match

June 22, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ On the soccer field in France, it was Iran 2, United States 1. On the televised satellite linkup of a group of college students in New York and counterparts in Tehran, it was pretty much a draw.

The much-ballyhooed World Cup clash offered a chance for Internews, a non-profit organization that sponsors Vis a Vis _ a series of international dialogues and discussions on major issues via live satellite linkup _ to bring the two sides together.

In Sunday’s program at New York University, the American students watched their Iranian counterparts, who could also see the Americans, while at the same time both sides watched the soccer match in Paris. Except for some audio problems that made the Iranians hard to understand here, they had no problems communicating.

In pregame conversations and in a more lively exchange at halftime, the Americans and Iranians, eight to a side, discussed sports, life in their respective countries and the chances ``misunderstandings″ that keep the two governments at odds can be resolved through good will among ordinary citizens.

``We don’t have to start government to government, We can start people to people to establish relations. Government to government will follow _ whether it’s in the States or in Iran,″ said Ali Hajebnejad, 19, who lived in the United States for six years and is the economics editor for a Tehran English-language daily.

``When you’re talking about person to person and human to human, I would definitely have to agree with that,″ replied Tyrone Turnipseed, 20, a Brooklyn-born NYU student. `To change public opinion is our agenda. It will take time for this kind of dialogue to trickle down, settle itself in the political structure.″

When Iran scored first, the Iranians cheered and gave each other American-style high-fives. When it scored again, Iranian Soroush Davoodi, 14, waved an Iranian flag on camera. In New York, NYU soccer captain Matt Rusconi, 20, waved a white towel symbolic of surrender.

On one point there appeared general agreement: Members of both sides said they thought U.S.-Iran relations were made more difficult by ``propaganda″ about Iran in the American media.

But there was no mention of the major issues that have dominated and chilled U.S.-Iran relations over the last two decades: the Islamic fundamentalist revolution and the 1979 hostage crisis; Iran’s ``fatwa″ death sentence of author Salman Rushdie; and the deaths of 290 people in the U.S. Navy shootdown of an Iranian jetliner 10 years ago.

Nor did the subject of Iranian political developments come up. Neither side noted that Iran’s reform-minded President Mohammad Khatami had countered legislative hard-liners’ impeachment of a key aide on Sunday by naming him to new post of deputy president.

The World Cup linkup was not intended to confront cosmic issues of international relations, but merely to enable the two groups of Americans and Iranians to speak to each other directly, while sharing a common experience, said Kim Spencer, managing director of Internews.

``The way to break down stereotypes is to get real people talking to each other, not the experts, not the journalists,″ Spencer said. ``We bring together two people, or two groups, and we let them talk.″

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