Iran bans travel of US wrestlers to Iran

FILE -- In this Dec. 29, 2016 file photo, released by the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), a long-range S-200 missile is fired in a military drill in the port city of Bushehr, on the northern coast of Persian Gulf, Iran. President Donald Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has said the U.S. is "putting Iran on notice" after it test-fired a ballistic missile earlier this week. Iran has test-fired various ballistic missiles since the July 2015 nuclear deal and it's unclear, from a technological standpoint, what is different about the latest launch. (Amir Kholousi, ISNA via AP, File)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Friday banned U.S. wrestlers from participating in the Freestyle World Cup competition this month in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order forbidding visas for Iranians, the official IRNA news agency reported.

A senior Iranian cleric vowed, meanwhile, that his country would continue its missile program, despite threats from the Trump administration that it was preparing to levy new sanctions.

IRNA quoted Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi as saying a special committee reviewed the case of the U.S. wrestling team and “Eventually the visit by the U.S. freestyle wrestling team was opposed.”

The decision marks the first action taken by Iran in response to Trump’s executive order banning visas for seven Muslim countries. Earlier this week, Iran said it would take retaliatory action.

Ghasemi said the policy of the new U.S. administration left Iran no other choice but to ban the wrestlers.

The competition in the western Iranian city of Kermanshah is scheduled for Feb. 16-17.

USA Wrestling had said it would send a team to the Freestyle World Cup, one of the most prestigious competitions in international wrestling.

U.S. freestyle wrestlers have competed in Iran since the 1998 Takhti Cup in Tehran, which followed an absence of nearly 20 years. Since then, Americans have attended Iran-hosted wrestling competitions 15 times. The American athletes were warmly welcomed by cheerful Iranian spectators and sport centers were packed as they appeared on the mats to compete.

The Iranians, for their part, have made 16 visits to the U.S. as guests of USA Wrestling since the 1990s.

Wrestling is extremely popular in Iran and is rooted in an ancient practice of combining the sport with other physical education and meditation.

Tehran Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said Iran would continue its missile program despite opposition from the U.S. government. The Trump administration said Thursday it is preparing to levy new sanctions on Iran in the first punitive action since the White House put Iran “on notice” after it test-fired a ballistic missile on Sunday.

“We have missile drills. Our missile drills are a show of our might,” he said. “We are living in a world of wolves. Wolves such as the arrogant government of America. In this world of wolves should we remain unarmed and they do whatever damn things they want? No way! This will never happen!”

Khatami said the new U.S. new administration is reiterating an “old message” that has been aired by previous U.S. administrations regardless of their affiliation with Republican and Democrat parties.

“Your message is aimed at confronting religion and Islam,” he said. “You have been against Islam” since 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Friday tweeted a message in which he insisted on improving the country’s military program as a means of defense.

“Iran unmoved by threats as we derive security for our people,” he said. “We’ll never initiate war, but we can only rely on our own means of defense.”

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