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Iran delegation gets visas for Kansas City expo

Iran delegation gets visas for Kansas City expo

May 18th, 2011 by MARIA SUDEKUM FISHER, Associated Press in News

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A delegation from Iran that received visas to attend an international trade conference in Kansas City despite not being registered for the event arrived in the U.S., the U.S. State Department said Tuesday.

State Department officials did not say how many people comprised the delegation.

The State Department referred questions about the group's itinerary to the U.S. Treasury Department's office of Foreign Assets Control, the federal agency responsible for enforcing sanctions against Iran. OFAC did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Iran because of concerns about its government's nuclear program and alleged links to terrorism and groups involved in weapons proliferation. The sanctions do not ban travel by ordinary citizens, although the visa process for them often is elaborate.

The Iranian delegation received 90-day visas to attend the conference in Kansas City under exemptions to the sanctions, which include travel for humanitarian purposes, for medical supplies and foodstuffs, the State Department said. The visas were issued in part because the conference is not hosted by the U.S. government, the department said.

Futurallia KC 2011, which runs from Wednesday through Friday, is organized by a French association that hosts massive networking forums each year for small and medium-sized businesses and features individual meetings with business owners and operators. The Kansas City event is the first Futurallia conference in the U.S. and about 700 people from around the world are expected to attend, organizers said.

The conference's executive director, Joanna Edgerton, said no delegation from Iran was participating.

Fred Baehner, president of Intermark3 Marketing, a Kansas City-based marketing company that has been helping organize the conference, said a delegation from Iran expressed interest in attending the event but never registered.

Ali Benuazizi, professor of political science at Boston College, said the group from Iran could have mistakenly failed to register but still show up.

"That's not unusual," he said. "Attention to detail is sometimes absent. Things are done last minute."

If the group from Iran arrived in Kansas City now, however, its members likely wouldn't get much out of the conference because the individual meetings already are booked, Baehner said.

"The registration is closed," he said. "Even if they did show up it's too late for them to attend the meetings, which is the whole point. ... It's too late to match them."

Edgerton also said Futurallia KC does not feature companies involved with medical supplies or foodstuffs. The main industries represented are construction, public works, transportation, information and communication technology, energy, environment and sustainable development, she said.

Last week, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Howard Berman of California, the panel's top Democrat, introduced a bill that would impose penalties on human rights abusers in Iran, including freezing their U.S.-based assets, denying them visas and prohibiting financial or business transactions with any U.S. entity.