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Iranian arts experts visit counterparts in United States

By Elise Labott, CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter
updated 12:22 AM EST, Wed February 27, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Eight arts specialists from Iran are in the United States for three weeks
  • The visit is part of a program to foster professional ties between Americans, counterparts
  • Iranians won't meet with U.S. officials because the countries don't have diplomatic relations

Washington (CNN) -- Expectations are low for a breakthrough with Iran in the latest round of nuclear negotiations in Kazakhstan, but relations between the Unites States and the Iranian people are proving much more promising.

U.S. wrestlers visited Tehran last week to compete in the World Cup, where they received a warm welcome by Iranian fans at the capital's Azadi Stadium.

And now, CNN has learned, eight Iranian museum specialists on Monday began a three-week visit to the United States as part of a State Department cultural exchange program.

The five-city tour includes stops in Washington, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles, where the group will learn about best practices in securing and displaying art exhibits from curators and archeologists at some of the most popular American museums including the National Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum. They will also visit universities and meet with other art-related organizations.

The U.S. does not have government-to-government exchanges with Iran, so the visitors will not meet with any American officials.

The State Department's International Visitor Leadership Program, through which the visitors are being hosted, works to connect Americans and citizens from other countries so they can build relationships with professional counterparts. The State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs offers a wide range of academic, cultural, private-sector, professional and sports exchange programs.

"These visits offer an opportunity to show a different American face to other countries, one that is non-commercial, non-political, and non-military," one State Department official said of the exchanges. "They support personal growth, lead to a deeper understanding of foreign cultures and improve international relationships"

After a 25-year hiatus, the International Visitor Leadership Program was restarted with Iran in 2006. Since then, the State Department has hosted 31 groups of Iranian mid-level professionals, mostly in the arts, medicine and sports, in an effort to build relationships with the Iranian people and hopefully create a basis for further cooperation.

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