Rabu, 16 Juli 2008

US 'ponders Iran diplomatic base'

The US state department has refused to confirm or deny reports of plans to establish a US diplomatic presence in Iran for the first time in 30 years.

The UK's Guardian newspaper said the US would announce plans for an interests section in Tehran in the next month.

Officials said recently this was being discussed but not actively worked on.

The report coincides with another shift in US approach towards Iran, with a top US diplomat planning to attend talks in Geneva with the Iranians on Saturday.

With no official confirmation and crucially no denial about US plans to open an interest section in Tehran, it may well be that something is brewing.

It is an idea that has been floating around Washington for a few weeks already.

In response to this latest report, the state department sent out a note with past comments made by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Last month, she simply said that while US policy towards Iran was known and unchanged, the Iranian people deserved better.

Ms Rice added that the US was determined to find ways to reach out to the Iranian people and wanted more Iranians to visit the US.

Conservative critics

While Washington still insists Iran must suspend uranium enrichment - a process the West fears could be used to make nuclear weapons - there seems to be a significant change in US tone.

Tehran has an interests section in Washington, where it processes visa applications and which gives it a presence on the ground in the US.

But the US has not had a diplomatic presence in Iran since the hostage crisis in 1979 and Iranians have to go to Dubai to get US visas.

The talks in Geneva on Saturday will be the first time in 30 years that such a high-ranking US diplomat - the third-most senior in the US - has met Iranian officials.

Washington insists that US participation in the talks is a one-time deal and that the diplomat, Under Secretary of State William Burns, will be listening, not negotiating.

This has not stopped conservative observers in Washington from criticising the Bush administration for "going soft" on Tehran.


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