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U.S. Sanctions in Homeland Split Iranians

Policy: The expatriate community remains divided on the emotional issue as Congress votes to continue isolating the Islamic Republic.


"Nations in the 21st century should have relationships with each other, but on fair and equitable ground," she said.

Pro- and anti-sanction forces claim the other side represents a mere sliver of real Iranian American sentiment about relations with their homeland. They accuse each other of being fanatics, terrorists or traitors to their kind.

Each has mailed the White House and Congress petitions signed by thousands of people in an attempt to bolster its case.

One thing is clear. The sanctions will continue to touch the lives of thousands of Iranians abroad and in America. Subadeh M. Zamanian, a self-described apolitical homemaker from Irvine, is among them.

Zamanian tearfully recounted the 1991 death of her 85-year-old father in Tehran because of a lack of medical supplies after an operation to repair his ulcerated stomach.

Her sister had to go to the black market to buy syringes and medicine. "In Iran, from production to consumption, 10 middlemen are needed, even for shampoo," Zamanian said. "They keep driving the costs up.

"Economic sanctions do not help get rid of terrorists or force these countries to observe human rights," said Zamanian, 57. "It only causes people to suffer."

The Tehran-based cousin of an Iranian broadcaster here insisted it also hurts the United States. "We are buying U.S. technology products from Dubai and Singapore at a much higher price," said Mohammad Reza, a computer engineer who lives in the Iranian capital. "The United States is losing a good market."

Azar, a 65-year-old retired bank executive who is visiting the Los Angeles area from Tehran, agreed that the sanctions are hurting people, not governments. But like many Iranians, she's more upset with general U.S. treatment of her people beyond sanctions.

She recounted her reception 16 months ago by Immigration and Naturalization Service and U.S. Customs officials at Los Angeles International Airport.

It was not her first visit here, but certainly the most humiliating one, said Azar, who, fearing retribution, asked that only her first name be used.

"I had a [U.S.] visa," she explained. "But they took me into a separate room, took my picture and fingerprinted me."

Customs agents went through her bags--three times--without explanation, she said.

"The whole experience took more than four hours. I was so upset that if I could have turned around and flown back, I would have," she said.

The U.S. policy of fingerprinting and photographing arriving Iranian nationals traveling for personal or business reasons dates to 1996, in the wake of the TWA Flight 800 explosion, which was initially suspected of being terrorist-related.

The policy touches the famous as well as unknowns. Acclaimed Iranian director Jafar Panahi, best known for his Oscar-nominated film "The White Balloon," was detained by immigration officials at John F. Kennedy Airport in April for 12 hours. He had only stopped in New York to change planes while en route from Hong Kong to a Buenos Aires film festival.

"Politics aside, it's been extremely unfortunate that the fingerprinting requirement prevents many sports and cultural exchanges between Iran and the United States," said Behrooz Afrakhan, an independent producer from Woodland Hills who spent more than six months working with the U.S. State Department to get the Iranian Persepolis team--the biggest soccer club in Asia--to Los Angeles for a historic tournament.

Such difficulties with the U.S. government, say sanction supporters, are the real problem, not the sanctions themselves.

"The U.S. government should do its utmost to show it supports Iranians," said Pooya Dayanim, director of the Iranian Jewish Public Affairs Committee, based in Los Angeles. "But that's separate from sanctions," which most Iranian Jews support.

Immigration agents "should say, 'We are doing this because your government is involved in terrorist activities, that this is to protect you.' But that's not the way they explain it. They treat everyone coming in as a terrorist."

But such policies won't change until U.S.-Iranian trade is restored, said an Iranian American investment banker based in Beverly Hills.

"The extension of sanctions makes the Iranian government more resistant," said John Farahi, managing director of NewPoint Securities, an investment banking firm. "The almighty dollar is more effective."

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