Iran Wants Direct Civilian Flights To The US

January 26, 2006

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Iran has asked the United States to allow direct flights between the two countries after a break of more than two decades, a senior civil aviation official said on Thursday.

The request comes as the United States and its European Union allies are pressing for the Islamic Republic to be reported to the United Nations Security Council where it could face possible sanctions for its nuclear program.

"We sent a letter to the relevant American officials on Wednesday, announcing Iran's willingness to resume direct flights," Nourollah Rezai-Niaraki, head of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization, told state television.

He said the decision to make the request was taken by hardline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad due to demand from the large Iranian community living in the United States.

"They have repeatedly complained about wasting time and losing their baggage on connecting flights," the official said.

Iranian airliners have been barred from the United States since the US government broke ties with Tehran after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

An Iranian civil aviation spokesman said Ahmadinejad's decision did not signal any move to try to improve relations between the two old foes. "I hope American officials do not adopt a political stance in making a decision on this request," said spokesman Reza Jafarzadeh.

The United States and the EU accuse Iran of trying to make nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program. Tehran says it needs nuclear technology to satisfy booming domestic electricity demand.

Iran is subject to US economic sanctions imposed in 1996, under the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act. Due to the sanctions, Iran has struggled to maintain its ageing fleet of aircraft, mostly US-built Boeing planes bought before the 1979 revolution.

(Reuters)