The US has quietly eased sanctions against three of its old nemeses -- Cuba, Iran and Sudan -- to facilitate literary, cultural and scientific exchanges that could help foster dissent there.
A new rule, unveiled by the Treasury Department Wednesday, enables Americans to freely engage in most ordinary publishing activities with Cuban, Iranian and Sudanese individuals and groups.
Restrictions on "certain interactions" with the local governments in the area of publishing will be maintained.
Robert Werner, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, said people seeking to publish works by Cuban, Iranian and Sudanese authors in the US, or to publish their own materials in the three states, will henceforth be able to do so "without seeking permission" from his office first.
"This rule provides clarity and promotes important policies aimed at the free exchange of ideas without undermining the national security objectives of these country sanctions," Werner stated.
Although introduced at different times, the US sanctions against Cuba, Iran and Sudan bar most types of trade or other exchanges because the US government believes these countries promote terrorism, suppress basic freedoms, and are run by oppressive governments.
All three nations are listed by the State Department as state sponsors of terrorism.
While easing the restrictions on publishing, the Treasury Department made clear the bulk of other sanctions will remain in place because they are "critical to US interests."
The action follow two lawsuits against Treasury Secretary John Snow and other top government officials that claim the restrictions were tantamount to blocking free exchange of ideas and therefore unconstitutional.
One of these suits was filed by representatives of the Association of American Publishers, PEN American Center and other groups in September.
Iranian Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi filed a related complaint in late October.
The plaintiffs said government crackdowns against scientists and cultural figures doing business with Cubans, Iranians and Sudanese have cost them nearly US$30 million in fines since 1993.
They cited the case of musician Ry Cooder, who was fined US$25,000 in 1999 for collaborating with Cubans to record the Grammy-winning album The Buena Vista Social Club.
When Cooder sought to record in Cuba a second album, lawyers said, the US government first denied permission, then reversed itself but made the trip contingent on Cooder agreeing to forgo all profits.
Last year, the government barred the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers from publishing articles by Iranian scientists because "the reordering of paragraphs and sentences," or, in other words, editing their work, was prohibited.
Even works by Iranian and Cuban dissidents could not be published in the US under the former regulations, legal experts said.
Attorneys Edward Davis and Linda Steinman, who represent the publishers in the case, said the new rules remove "significant obstacles" faced by American artists and authors.
"Works of critical importance to the advancement of science and our understanding of international affairs can now be published without threat of civil and criminal sanctions," they pointed out.