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US wheat growers still hoping for sales to Iran

WASHINGTON, June 28 (Reuters) - U.S. wheat growers remain hopeful of making sales to Iran , despite relatively little progress since the Clinton administration eased sanctions last year, a top industry official told Reuters.

"We've had some contact with the Iranians, but progress is very slow," said Alan Tracy, president of the U.S. Wheat Associates, an export market development farm group.

In the coming days, Congress is expected to approve legislation to allow food and medicine sales to Cuba - a move eagerly awaited by U.S. farm groups.

The same legislation will also put into law actions taken by the administration last year to allow U.S. food and medicine sales to Iran , Sudan and Libya despite sanctions that continue on other trade with those countries.

Since August, when the sanctions were eased, private Iranian buyers have bought about 600,000 tonnes of U.S. corn.

However, Iranian wheat imports are controlled by the government, which has not yet seen the need to buy from the United States, said Gregg Doud, a wheat market analyst with World Perspectives, a commodity analysis firm.

The U.S. Agriculture Department has forecast Iran will import 7.5 million tonnes of wheat in 2000/01, making it the world's largest wheat importer this year.

However, it could easily fill that demand from other suppliers - such as Canada, Argentina and Australia - without turning to the United States, Doud said.

Dawn Forsythe, spokeswoman for the U.S. Wheat Associates, said industry officials met "briefly" with government buyers from Iran at an international grains conference earlier this month in Regina, Canada.

"They have indicated to us that when they want to talk to us, they will," Forsythe said.

Despite some improvement in relations between the United States and Iran over the past year, it may still be too early for the government of reformist President Mohammad Khatami to buy wheat from the United States, Doud said.

Richard Bliss, president of Niki Trading Co., said he remains hopeful government buyers in Iran will eventually turn to the United States for wheat and other goods.

"We continue to have discussions and we think ultimately this will normalise," he said.

Niki played a key role in getting U.S. sanctions eased on Iran by obtaining an order from the Government Trading Corp. of Iran for 3.55 million tonnes of U.S. commodities.

So far, it has been unable to turn that order into sales.

((Doug Palmer, Washington newsroom + 1 202 898 8341 fax + 1 202 898 8383, washington.commodsenergy.newsroom@reuters.com)).


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