Iran Open to U.S. Diplomatic Talks, Official Says
By SEBNEM ARSU, NEw York Times, July 19, 2008
ISTANBUL — Iran’s foreign minister said on Friday that his country was open to discussing the establishment by the Bush administration of the first American diplomatic presence in Tehran since relations were severed nearly three decades ago.
The minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, welcomed as a “positive step” the administration’s decision to send a senior American official to participate in international talks with Iran this weekend, and said he expected the talks to make progress.
Speaking in Ankara, where he was on a one-day official visit with his Turkish counterpart, Ali Babacan, and other senior government officials, Mr. Mottaki said there had been increased demand from Iranians and Americans for better bilateral social and business relations, which had been the basis for earlier proposals for direct flights between the countries.
“I think there can be a meeting both on the opening of a United States Interests Section in Iran and also on starting direct flights,” he said. “We have proposed direct flights between the United States and Iran last year, given the intense demand from both American and Iranian people.”
Although there has been no official confirmation, European and American officials have said that the Bush administration was considering establishing an American diplomatic presence in Iran for the first time since relations were ended during the 444-day occupation of the American Embassy in Tehran, which started on Nov. 4, 1979.
The proposal would be to establish an interests section, rather than a fully staffed embassy, although the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under diplomatic rules, have said that the idea has not been approved by the White House and that it could be delayed or blocked by opposition within the administration.
Speaking to reporters through a Turkish interpreter, Mr. Mottaki said that though he was open to talks on the issue, he was critical of the United States, saying that Iran had heard about the American plan only from the news media, instead of official channels.
On Saturday, William J. Burns, the State Department’s third-ranking official, was expected in Geneva to participate, along with European Union nations, in talks with Iran aimed at persuading it to suspend uranium enrichment in exchange for economic and political incentives. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and Tehran’s nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, were to take part in the meeting.
The Iranian delegation has prepared its own proposals on political, economic and security issues, and was ready to discuss them in detail, Mr. Mottaki said. He described a more positive atmosphere that he said had been created after Mr. Solana’s recent visit to Tehran in June to present a document of understanding among the six countries participating in the nuclear talks — the United States, Germany, Russia, France, Britain and China.
The latest steps come as the White House is adopting new tactics in dealing with Iran. With six months left in office, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appear to be looking for new ways to reach out to the Iranian people as the administration tries to bring a peaceful resolution to the impasse over Iran’s nuclear program. Referring to the participation of Mr. Burns, of the State Department, in the talks, Mr. Mottaki said in English, “Formally, it is a new positive approach.”
In an appearance on NTV, a private television station in Turkey, Mr. Mottaki said: “The era during which Americans changed certain regimes in the world is over as they experienced everything they wanted to in the last 30 years. On the other hand, we take into consideration and pay attention to every positive effort.”
The Iranian foreign minister also dismissed any possibility of an Israeli and American joint military operation against Iran. “The possibility is zero,” Mr. Mottaki said on NTV.