It's been 30 years since the U.S. and Iran have enjoyed full diplomatic relations. Formal diplomatic ties between the 2 countries were broken after a radical student group took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
But President Barack Obama has said it is time for the United States to engage more actively with Iran and with the Iranian people. One way to help thaw relations is through people-to-people exchanges. That is why the U.S. State Department was happy when the Iranian Badminton Association asked the USA Women's Badminton team to come to Iran to compete in the Fajr international tournament in Tehran this month.
The visit was to take place under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which has hosted more than 250 Iranian artists, athletes, physicians, scholar and other professionals in a broad range of programs since 2006.
But the Iranian consulate in Dubai did not issue visas to the American team members, saying there was no time to process their applications. Dan Cloppas, USA Badminton Secretary-General, expressed disappointment that the American athletes now "will not be able to compete and meet new friends. ... Friendship through sport," he said in a statement, "is a good thing that should be respected and cherished." He added that the team's visa applications were completed 2 months ago, in plenty of time to meet all deadlines.
U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood called the situation with the Badminton team "unfortunate:"
"We are very interested in trying to improve relations between the American people and the Iranian people, and this is not a good step forward in terms of trying to promote people to people exchanges."
Mr. Wood said he anticipated that a planned visit to the United States by an Iranian Badminton team would still take place in July. In reference to reaching out to Iran and the Iranian people, Mr. Wood noted that as President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both emphasized, "When the Iranians unclench their fist, there will be a hand waiting to greet them."