February 4, 2009 / 9:19 AM / 11 years ago

Iran fails to issue visas for U.S. badminton players

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran did not issue visas for a group of U.S. women badminton players to compete in the country this month, the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday, blaming a “time-consuming process” in handling such applications.

The U.S. State Department said Monday eight players along with four coaches and managers would visit Iran on February 3-9 to take part in a competition.

It would have been the first sporting exchange between the two foes since the January 20 inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama, who has said he will pursue greater engagement with the Islamic Republic.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said they would now not be able to come to the country, which this month marks the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution that ousted the U.S.-backed shah.

“The process of issuing visas is usually a time consuming process...this work process, because of the timing, did not allow for the visas to be issued,” he told a news conference.

The United States cut diplomatic ties with Tehran during the 1979-1981 hostage crisis in which a group of radical Iranian students held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days after storming the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

The nations remain at odds over many issues, including U.S. accusations that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, but they have held sports exchanges in recent years. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.

Since the United States resumed people-to-people exchanges with Iran in 2006, it has sent 20 wrestlers and coaches to Iran and brought 75 Iranians to the United States, including table tennis, basketball and water polo players.

Reporting by Zahra Hosseinian; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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