Iran, which long castigated the United States as the "Great Satan", is to promote its tourist potential on America's CNN television station and Britain's BBC, the country's vice-president for tourism Hossein Marachi has revealed to AFP.
Tense relations between Tehran and Washington will not stop Iran from exploiting its attractions on the US cable network, said Marachi, who insists US sanctions preventing American companies from trading with Iran "will not apply in this instance".
Both BBC and CNN campaigns should start within two months under a one-year contract, the value of which Marachi did not disclose.
Kevin Young, acting head of public relations for BBC World, said: "There have been long discussions about this and we're optimistic the campaign will be launched but it's not been finalised yet."
He added that no actual starting date had been decided and the ads would only be shown on the state-funded broadcaster's semi-commercial BBC World.
"We would be looking at what we call a spot campaign, which is a straightforward commercial campaign for 30- or 60-second adverts that would appear for a period of six months."
Spokesman Nigel Pritchard for CNN international in Atlanta said only: "We can't comment on commercial deals unless they are in place. There is no deal in place."
Marachi said Iran would provide footage for the slots. "They will show Iranian tourist sites.
"You'll not see Friday prayers," he added with a smile.
Tehran's aim is not to persuade Americans to visit the country, but to have an impact on the two networks' worldwide audiences so Iran can develop an industry, largely neglected given its potential.
Global network campaigns will be followed by ads on local channels in 20 countries in the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
Hundreds of thousands of Iranians living in the United States "will also be targeted and we will try to reach them via Iranian satellite channels" although American audiences are not currently a priority.
"The United States will be targeted later," he said.
However, said Marachi, "counter revolutionary" channels controlled by Iranian exiles, mostly broadcast from Los Angeles, will not be asked to show the ads.
According to Marachi, fewer than 500 Americans visit Iran every year.
"We don't have a policy aimed at drawing American tourists, we don't give them visas easily," he said.
Americans entering Iran are fingerprinted, following Washington's decision to do the same with Iranian citizens entering the US.
The Iranian visa application process is also complex and drawn out, as it is for Iranians wanting to visit the United States.
Iran, which has an impressive but under-exploited array of cultural sites, wants to raise its current one million foreign visitors annually to 20 million in 20 years' time, said Marachi.
At three times the size of France, Iran is home to such exceptional sites as the ancient capital of Persepolis, the Islamic architectural showcase of Isfahan and the desert city of Yazd.
The Islamic republic also offers a range of landscapes, from the forests of the Caspian Sea to the shores of the Gulf, passing by the central deserts and the Alborz mountain range, popular with Iranian and foreign skiers alike.
But the country suffers more from a lack of hotels and shortcomings in its transport system than from years of isolation since the 1979 Islamic Revolution or from its image abroad as defying the international community over its nuclear programme and making foreign women wear headscarves, said Marachi.
"We will invest 30 billion dollars over the next five years" to eliminate the deficiencies, he said.
Marachi nevertheless acknowledges that tourists will have to comply with local customs and visiting foreign women should keep their hair covered in public.
"Tourism in Iran currently brings in 500 million dollars a year and the aim is to reach 25 billion in 20 years' time," he said.
"From now on, foreign tourists can get a one-week visa on arrival at Tehran airport and this visa can be renewed once. In a month's time, you will be able to get a tourist visa over the Internet," said Marachi.