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Planning for Holiday Tour? US Tour Company is Booking Luxury Trips to Iran

Iran has restored full diplomatic relations with the U.S

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FILE- Iranian women pass a tourist in Isfahan about 400 kms (240 miles) south of Tehran, Iran, May 10, 2006. A U.S. luxury tour company is offering Iran as a new destination. VOA
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It is home to beautiful mountains, breathtaking historical buildings and priceless artwork, but it’s also the subject of strongly worded U.S. State Department warnings.

For Americans, Iran may not be the first place that comes to mind when planning a vacation, even decades after the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover following the country’s Islamic Revolution. “Death to America!” can still be heard at hard-line mosques and protests, and Iranians with Western ties can face arbitrary arrest.

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However, one luxury tour company in the U.S. is promoting a new trip to the country for those willing to take the risk, describing it as the first opportunity to see an Iran opening up to the West after last year’s nuclear deal.

‘Stepping into another world’

“We feel that Iran is one of the most exciting places that someone can travel to at this point in time, given the current climate in the country and what sort of changes have been taking place recently,” said Stefanie Schmudde, product manager of Americas and Middle East for the Downers Grove, Illinois-based tour company Abercrombie & Kent.

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On paper, there’s a lot to interest travelers. The United Nations culture agency lists 21 World Heritage sites in Iran. They include the ruins of Persepolis and Pasargadae, the mosques and palace at Meidan Emam of Isfahan, and other sites included on the Illinois company’s 12-day tour from $5,600.

Iran has long drawn Shiite pilgrims to its holy sites, but local skiers and snowboarders also boast of its slopes, and the capital, Tehran, enjoys a growing modern art scene. Iran says around 5 million tourists visit each year, most coming from Iraq and other neighboring countries.

FILE - Canadian tourist David Froud and his Iranian wife, Mahnaz, sightsee at the Jomeh mosque, which is now a historical monument, in the city of Isfahan, about 390 kilometers south of Tehran, Iran, April 8, 2011. VOA
FILE – Canadian tourist David Froud and his Iranian wife, Mahnaz, sightsee at the Jomeh mosque, which is now a historical monument, in the city of Isfahan, about 390 kilometers south of Tehran, Iran, April 8, 2011. VOA

Europeans have been coming to Iran, but Americans represent far less than 1 percent of all tourists. Many are doubtless staying away because they associate Iran with Middle East conflicts and anti-American rhetoric. But the Iranian government, which is deeply suspicious of U.S. intentions, has also made it difficult for Americans to secure tourism visas.

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Schmudde, who recently returned from a trip to Iran, compares the current opening to what is taking place in Cuba, which unlike Iran has restored full diplomatic relations with the U.S.

“There’s so few places that don’t have a strong American influence, and Iran is one of those places,” she said. “You do get the sense you’re stepping into another world, and that makes it completely fascinating to a traveler.”

State Department not a fan

The State Department has a very different perspective.

“Iranian authorities continue to unjustly detain and imprison U.S. citizens, particularly Iranian-Americans, including students, journalists, business travelers and academics, on charges including espionage and posing a threat to national security,” its August travel warning reads. “U.S. citizens traveling to Iran should very carefully weigh the risks of travel and consider postponing.”

While American diplomatic posts overseas tend to see security as a glass half-empty, or even shattered on the floor, their concern in this case is reasonable. Iran and the U.S. haven’t had formal diplomatic relations since 1979, and a new round of arrests by hard-line factions within Iran’s security services is targeting those with Western ties in the wake of the nuclear accord.

Schmudde acknowledged those concerns and said any journalists, people associated with the U.S. government and military personnel asking about the trip would be warned in advance. Alcohol is illegal, and women are required by law to cover their hair.

Gays and lesbians can face the death penalty in Iran. However, that didn’t stop Utah state Sen. Jim Dabakis and his husband from traveling to Iran this summer at the invitation of the country’s tourism industry. His visit set off a firestorm in Iran among hard-liners, who constantly warn of “Western infiltration.”

Visas hard to come by

In the time since, one hopeful U.S. tourist and a tour company in Iran have told The Associated Press that it has become even more difficult for Americans to get a visa. However, the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, which handles issuing visas for Iran, says nothing has changed.

Iranian officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Abercrombie & Kent has planned its first Iran trip in early May, leaving just ahead of the country’s presidential election. They say that interchange between American tourists and the Iranian people will help bridge the gap between the two nations.

“I would not hesitate to send anybody,” Schmudde said. “It’s a very exciting destination that’s really and truly on the cusp of change.” (VOA)

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Aadhaar Helpline Mystery: French Security Expert Tweets of doing a Full Disclosure Tomorrow about Code of the Google SetUP Wizard App

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Google to charge $40 per device to Android makers. Wikimedia Commons

Google’s admission that it had in 2014 inadvertently coded the 112 distress number and the UIDAI helpline number into its setup wizard for Android devices triggered another controversy on Saturday as India’s telecom regulator had only recommended the use of 112 as an emergency number in April 2015.

After a large section of smartphone users in India saw a toll-free helpline number of UIDAI saved in their phone-books by default, Google issued a statement, saying its “internal review revealed that in 2014, the then UIDAI helpline number and the 112 distress helpline number were inadvertently coded into the SetUp wizard of the Android release given to OEMs for use in India and has remained there since”.

Aadhaar Helpline Number Mystery: French security expert tweets of doing a full disclosure tomorrow about Code of the Google SetUP Wizard App, Image: Wikimedia Commons.

However, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recommended only in April 2015 that the number 112 be adopted as the single emergency number for the country.

According to Google, “since the numbers get listed on a user’s contact list, these get  transferred accordingly to the contacts on any new device”.

Google was yet to comment on the new development.

Meanwhile, French security expert that goes by the name of Elliot Alderson and has been at the core of the entire Aadhaar controversy, tweeted on Saturday: “I just found something interesting. I will probably do full disclosure tomorrow”.

“I’m digging into the code of the @Google SetupWizard app and I found that”.

“As far as I can see this object is not used in the current code, so there is no implications. This is just a poor coding practice in term of security,” he further tweeted.

On Friday, both the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) as well as the telecom operators washed their hand of the issue.

While the telecom industry denied any role in the strange incident, the UIDAI said that he strange incident, the UIDAI said that some vested interests were trying to create “unwarranted confusion” in the public and clarified that it had not asked any manufacturer or telecom service provider to provide any such facility.

Twitter was abuzz with the new development after a huge uproar due to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Chairman R.S. Sharma’s open Aadhaar challenge to critics and hackers.

Ethical hackers exposed at least 14 personal details of the TRAI Chairman, including mobile numbers, home address, date of birth, PAN number and voter ID among others. (IANS)

Also Read: Why India Is Still Nowhere Near Securing Its Citizens’ Data?