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Iran has banned the import of hundreds of American goods that include toilet paper, shuttlecocks, and tanks in a move that appears largely designed to clap alarm bells about creeping U.S. influence.

The 227-item ban list was issued by the Trade Promotion Organization of Iran on December 14 and reportedly sent to the relevant provincial authorities.

The measure comes against a backdrop of warnings among hard-liners that a recent agreement to curb Tehran's nuclear program could open the door to growing U.S. influence and "infiltration."

U.S. law has long prohibited U.S. individuals or entities from doing business with Iran, a result of the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and taking of American hostages in 1979-81, and that continuing trade embargo would appear to make this recent Iranian move unnecessary.

But Iranian Commerce and Industry Minister Reza Nematzadeh last month ordered a ban on U.S. consumer goods. He touted a necessity "to stop the entry of American consumer goods and to prohibit products that symbolize the presence of the United States in the country."

Nematzadeh cited a demand by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to empower Iranian production and avoid U.S. consumer goods.

Vinegar And Cigars

The Trade Promotion Organization's list also includes cars, billiard tables, nail and shaving products, bottle openers, stamps, chewing gum, vinegar, and cigars.

A woman plays badminton in a Tehran park.
A woman plays badminton in a Tehran park.

Khamenei, who has the last say on political and religious affairs in the Islamic republic, has repeatedly warned since the nuclear deal was signed in July of U.S. efforts to "infiltrate" Iran -- including using money and sex to achieve Washington's purported aim.

Other officials from the hard-line faction of Iran's clerically dominated establishment have issued similar warnings.

Tehran's interim Friday Prayers leader, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, was quoted last month as saying that the United States uses "sandwiches" to expand its influence.

"Whenever America has aimed at entering a country, it has done so through sandwiches and McDonald's [restaurants] and opened an infiltration window," Khatami said, according to domestic media.

Iranian imports from the United States include seeds and medical devices.

Some U.S. consumer goods -- such as iPhones and sneakers -- also make their way into Iran through the black market despite decades of the U.S. trade embargo.

The implementation of July's nuclear deal should lead to the removal of some sanctions: U.S. companies will be allowed to sell civilian aircraft and parts to Iran, for instance.

But the remaining trade embargo will still limit U.S. firms' permission to do business in other areas, including the oil industry and consumer goods.

The anonymous man who is behind the initiative says he hopes the day will come when no one will need to come to his wall for clothes.

Walls typically create divisions. But not always.

In Iran, activists are using them to bring people together and encourage them to give. They've installed coat hooks and signs in at least three cities asking people to leave unwanted clothing for those in need.

"If you need clothing, take according to your needs, and if you have clothing at home that you don't need, please hang it here," reads one of the signs.

Iranians are calling them "walls of kindness."

The man behind the initiative in Mashhad told the daily Hamshahri recently that he was inspired by similar acts of kindness in Iran and around the world.

"Be good, as God has been good to us," reads the sign on his wall.

The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, set up his charity wall on his own property in October, he told Hamshahri: "I saw a picture from Gilan [Province] where a place was designated for people to leave their extra clothes for whoever needed them. I also heard that in Tehran they've installed a fridge where people leave food [for the needy]."

He added that many people have welcomed the initiative.

"I saw one person hanging two sets of almost new suits [on the wall]; he had brought them from the dry cleaner," he said.

The Iranian economy has been in recession, or teetering on the brink, for several years. And while official unemployment figures are around 10 percent, the jobless rate among young people is estimated at more than 20 percent.

The Mashhad man said he's asked people on social media to keep giving: "I've told them to bring clothes in small quantities so that those who come here know that clothes are always available."

He hopes the day will come when no one will need to come to his wall for clothes, he added.

Social-networking sites and messaging applications, including the popular Telegram app, have reportedly played a key role in getting the word out about the "walls of kindness."

"A man came to me from a poor neighborhood in Mashhad -- he told me he had found the address on social media," said the Mashhad man.

Similar initiatives have reportedly been set up in other parts of the country, including in the southern city of Sirjan, where, also in October, a group of young people installed coat hooks and signs in two locations, asking people to give to the poor.

There is also a similar wall in Shiraz, according to social-media users who have shared pictures of it recently:

The sign on this wall says: "If you don't need it, leave it. If you need it, take it."

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About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.


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