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Iranian Olympians En Route to U.S.

February 6, 2002

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Despite heightened political tension between Tehran and Washington, Iran’s two-man Olympic ski team was en route Wednesday to the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

The team, along with the head of Iran’s National Olympic Committee, will attend Friday’s opening ceremony, the committee said.

Homeira Asadi, an official with Iran’s NOC, said the Iranian team will not be fingerprinted on arrival in the United States. Asadi said the U.S. Justice Department has had ``very good cooperation″ with the committee and has agreed the Iranians would not be fingerprinted and photographed on arrival.

The team consists of alpine skier Bagher Kalhor and cross-country skier Mostafa Mirhashemi. Bahram Afsharzadeh is the head of Iran’s NOC.

Sports teams from Iran and the United States have competed against each other since the 1997 election of reformist President Mohammad Khatami. Iranian teams have attended games in the United States after receiving assurances from American officials that they would not be fingerprinted upon arrival.

Iran considers the fingerprinting routinely carried out on its nationals visiting the United States as insulting and unfriendly behavior.

Several Iranian groups have called on their government to retaliate by fingerprinting Americans on their arrival in Iran, but the Tehran government has not done so.

U.S.-Iran ties were severed after students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

Relations began to somewhat thaw after Khatami’s election, but rose to new political tension in recent days after President Bush accused Iran, together with Iraq and North Korea, of being an ``axis of evil″ supporting terrorists.

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