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Iran minister boycotts dinner over dress

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AP: Larissa Abramova, a Ukrainian violinist, thought her red dress was lovely. But it apparently offended Iran’s foreign minister so much he boycotted a gala dinner attended by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Associated Press

By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press Writer

SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt (AP) – Larissa Abramova, a Ukrainian violinist, thought her red dress was lovely. But it apparently offended Iran’s foreign minister so much he boycotted a gala dinner attended by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Abramova said Friday she was wearing a red, sleeveless dress with matching gloves coming up past the elbow and a red scarf draped over the low-cut front. She chose the ensemble especially for Thursday’s dinner for dozens of the world’s top diplomats because she knew she would “look beautiful in it,” she told the Associated Press.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit had hoped the occasion would be a chance for Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Rice to have an informal talk on the sidelines of an international conference on Iraq in this Red Sea resort town. A place had been set for him across from Rice at the dinner.

But Mottaki stayed away from the dinner at a restaurant on the hotel’s beach. He only went as far as the lobby, where Abramova was playing at the bar, entertaining the dozens of diplomats passing by on their way to the restaurant. He entered the lobby and sat down briefly, never going out to the restaurant, Aboul Gheit said.

Through a translator, Mottaki told reporters there were problems with “Islamic standards” at the gathering. “There was something wrong with that so I offered my apologies,” Mottaki said. “There was no other reason.”

A U.S. official with Rice’s delegation said Mottaki complained to the Egyptians that the hotel violinist was dressed too revealingly. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the dinner was a closed affair.

“I don’t know which woman he was afraid of, the woman in the red dress or the secretary of state,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday.

But the long-haired, attractive Abramova said she could not believe her dress was to blame.

“I think the problem (is) not in me and not in my dress,” she told AP, speaking alternately in English and through an interpreter. “It was some other reason because he left the party.”

Abramova, who plays at the hotel every night, said she saw many diplomats in suits passing by, but did not recognize Mottaki or notice him sitting. At the time, she was playing her usual repertoire of classic pop songs such as the theme to “Love Story,” “Dr. Zhivago” and “The Godfather.”

She said the problem could also have been the women in miniskirts in the hotel. Dress code in Sharm el-Sheik, a secular party town, falls far short of the strict Islamic garb – including the headscarf – enforced on women in Iran. Shorts, bikinis, bathing suits are more the norm here.

When Abramova showed up Friday evening for her nightly show, she was surrounded by journalists, photographers and cameramen – the unexpected center of a diplomatic fuss. She said she felt “a little bit embarrassed” by the attention.

On Friday night, she was wearing black pants and a black top with diaphanous sleeves.

Abramova, who has been working in Egypt for three years, said she was born in Russia, but her family later moved to Ukraine, where she gained citizenship. Her husband, a Ukrainian pianist, accompanied her on Friday night – but not on Thursday.

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