John McCain and his “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran” lost the presidential election. George W. Bush and his view of Iran as an “evil” nation will soon leave the White House. Barack Obama could open a new chapter in U.S.-Iranian relations by visiting Iran. He wouldn’t be alone.

Iran receives more than a million tourists annually, and that number has grown substantially over the last three years. Most of the tourists arriving in Iran are journalists, students, academics, and athletes who come to participate in a special event or for leisure purposes. They come from the Muslim world, from Europe, from the Asia-Pacific region, and even from the Americas. Despite the last three years of rising tensions between Tehran and Washington, a number of famous Americans visited Iran. These included Hollywood actor Sean Penn, scholar Richard Nelson Frye, veteran film director Richard Leacock, the 2005 Nobel Prize winner in economics Thomas Schelling, and 1993 Nobel Prize winner in physics Joseph Hooton Taylor.

Many visitors expect to arrive in a dry desert country with rural people, everyone wearing black, and all the women covering their faces. Tourists are often startled to find thriving cities with crowded streets, where music plays and people laugh. They are surprised to find a country where so many have access to the Internet.

In this picture, Japanese tourists pose with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Persepolis, the ancient Persian city that dates back to the 6th century BC. Perhaps Persepolis would be a fitting place for President Obama to meet with the Iranian leadership during his first 100 days…

Kourosh Ziabari is an Iranian freelance journalist, the author of the book "7+1," and a contributing writer for several magazines around the world. He is also a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

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