Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
YAZD, Iran —“You are American?” a surprised Iranian asked me as I sat down near him in a restaurant famous for eggplant and pomegranate stews. “How did you get a visa?”
Ever since 2002, when U.S. President George W. Bush named Iran a member of the world’s anti-American “Axis of Evil” — or perhaps since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the searing hostage crisis that followed — the idea that American tourists would visit Iran has seemed to border on the bizarre. Yet an adventurous few do come, and most find a welcome far beyond what they had imagined.
In no other country is there such an imbalance between the wealth of tourist attractions and the dearth of tourists. If Iran were a fully open country, sites like the awe-inspiring ruins at Persepolis or the dazzling mosques of Isfahan would be jammed with visitors from around the world. Instead they are all but empty, offering visitors one of the world’s richest travel experiences.
During a two-week trip through Iran in May, I ran across groups of intrepid travelers at almost every stop. All marveled at what they saw.
The end of the Bush administration will likely bring an end to one of my favourite guilty pleasures of reporting on North Korea, which is the verbal battle between Washington and Pyongyang. Prickly North Korea will undoubtedly fire rhetorical volleys at Barack Obama’s team but it may be hard to match the vitriolic language it has levelled at the administration of outgoing President George W. Bush, which in North Korean parlance is “a bunch of tricksters and political imbeciles who are the center of a plot breeding fraud and swindle”.
The Bush administration came into office pledging to take a tough line toward Pyongyang to force it to end its nuclear weapons programme, stop threatening its neighbours with ballistic missiles and halt human rights abuses that are regarded as some of the worst in the world. North Korea bristles at any criticism of its leaders or its communist system. It unleashed its first insults directed at Bush weeks into his presidency in 2001, after his team labelled the North a dangerous state.