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Iran changes its mind, says it will allow U.S. wrestlers after judge blocks Trump travel ban

After a federal judge temporarily blocked President Trump’s ban on Iranians traveling to the United States, Iran said Sunday that a U.S. wrestling team would be granted visas to compete at a prestigious international tournament here this month.

The move was aimed at deescalating tensions with the Trump administration, which had put Iran “on notice” and imposed fresh sanctions after the Islamic republic conducted a ballistic missile test last weekend.

Iranian news agencies had reported Friday that Americans would be denied visas to compete in the Freestyle World Cup Feb. 16-17 in Kermanshah, a cradle of traditional wrestling in western Iran.

But Bahram Ghasemi, a spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, said Sunday that the American team would be granted visas in part because of the decision by a U.S. federal judge to “halt the execution of discriminatory restrictions against the entrance of Iranian citizens to America,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

The decision on Friday by federal Judge James Robart temporarily lifted Trump’s ban against refugees and travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Two Iranian archers were among those denied visas to the U.S. to participate in a tournament in Las Vegas that begins Friday.

Trump lashed out at Robart, calling the decision “ridiculous,” and directed the Justice Department to appeal the ruling. Early Sunday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Trump administration’s request to reinstate the travel ban immediately and asked both sides to file arguments by Monday.

Iran and the United States have enjoyed a close relationship when it comes to wrestling, which is extremely popular in the Islamic republic. American wrestlers have attended Iran-hosted meets more than 15 times over the past three decades.

The event later this month in Kermanshah was also expected to draw teams from Russia, Ukraine and Cuba.

The foreign ministry did not say whether other Americans holding valid visas would be allowed to enter Iran. Iranian officials had previously said they would “take reciprocal measures” against American nationals in response to Trump’s visa ban.

Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.

shashank.bengali@latimes.com

Follow @SBengali on Twitter for more news from South Asia

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