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Iran bars friendly visit by U.S. soccer team

TEHRAN, July 4 (Reuters) - Iran has barred a visit by a U.S. soccer team for friendly matches on the free trade island of Kish later this month, a Kish official said on Tuesday.

The foreign ministry move retaliated for attempts by U.S. immigration officials to fingerprint Iranians visiting the United States, he told Reuters.

Foreign ministry officials could not be reached for comment.

The Charlotte Eagles of North Carolina were due to play three Iranian teams at a tournament on the Gulf island in mid-July, according to the Kish official.

He said the U.S. team had been due to fly in from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates across the Gulf.

Tehran has denounced Washington for seeking to fingerprint Iranians on arrival to the United States, part of a U.S. policy toward citizens of countries it accuses of supporting terrorism.

Several groups of Iranian athletes and scholars have in the past pulled out of tournaments or seminars in American cities to protest against such treatment.

The Iranian foreign ministry has been under pressure from powerful hardliners to take similar action against American citizens visiting the Islamic republic.

The United States, which severed relations with Iran two decades ago when the pro-Western shah was overthrown in an Islamic revolution, has encouraged greater informal contact with contemporary Iran under reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

But Washington's initial enthusiasm has dampened as Tehran continues to rebuff U.S. overtures for official contact leading towards improved relations.

U.S. officials waived the fingerprinting in January to allow a friendly soccer match between the two countries in Pasadena, California. But they have been non-committal about the policy since then.


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