(11/02/06 - TEHRAN, Iran) - Iran will offer cash incentives to travel agencies to encourage Western tourists to visit the country, giving a premium for Americans, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
The Islamic republic's political leadership has been trying to reach out to ordinary Americans to show that a standoff over Iran's nuclear ambitions is with the Bush administration not U.S. citizens.
The latest initiative comes as the United Nations Security Council deliberates a draft resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran for its disputed nuclear program.
"Iran's tourism department will pay $20 per person to those who attract European or American tourists to the country," the agency on Tuesday quoted Mohammed Sharif Malakzadeh, deputy head of the department, as saying.
Visitors from other countries would earn travel agents $10 per tourist, Malakzadeh said.
Last week, Iran's fiercely anti-U.S. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad expressed opposition to a bill that would require Americans to be fingerprinted on arrival in Iran.
The bill, which passed a preliminary reading in the Iranian parliament earlier this month, was drafted by conservatives who sought to retaliate for U.S. requirements that Iranian visitors be fingerprinted. It has not been debated yet.
The U.S. measure, which also applies to nationals of some other countries, was implemented in 2002 in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
In an earlier attempt to reach out to Americans, Ahmadinejad in January proposed the resumption of direct commercial flights between Iran and the United States, which were halted more than 25 years ago.
The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since Iranian militants stormed the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979.
The atmosphere between the two countries improved marginally under former President Mohammad Khatami, who encouraged sports and cultural exchanges, but it deteriorated after the Sept. 11 attacks, when President Bush declared that Iran belonged to an "axis of evil" with Iraq and North Korea.
Since taking office last year, Ahmadinejad has widened the gap with Washington by taking a hard-line position on Iran's nuclear program and calling for Israel's destruction.