Reuters: The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday a decision by one of its ambassadors to break with U.S. practice by sitting beside Iran’s foreign minister at a weekend panel did not signal any new policy toward Iran. WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday a decision by one of its ambassadors to break with U.S. practice by sitting beside Iran’s foreign minister at a weekend panel did not signal any new policy toward Iran.
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad sat beside Iran’s Manouchehr Mottaki while they spoke at a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Under normal practice, U.S. diplomats are expected to seek permission before appearing on a panel with a prominent Iranian official, something Khalilzad did not do.
Iran and the United States do not have diplomatic ties and relations have been strained in recent years by Washington’s accusations that Tehran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Iran denies this, saying its nuclear program is to generate power.
The State Department sought to play down the incident, saying Khalilzad broke no new ground.
“There were no meetings. There were no handshakes. … If you look at the transcript of what Zal said, he was referring back to what American policy is and reiterated that,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.
Asked if the incident implied any new U.S. policy toward Iran, McCormack said: “No.”
The United States has authorized its ambassador in Baghdad to have limited contacts with Iranian officials chiefly to discuss events in Iraq.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice exchanged pleasantries with Mottaki over a dessert of ice cream last May during a luncheon at a conference on Iraq in Egypt.
The United States has offered to hold wide-ranging talks with Iran if Tehran first ceases its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities, which can produce material for nuclear weapons.
Asked if the Bush administration would have preferred that Khalilzad not take part in the panel, McCormack said: “I think you can judge by the fact that we haven’t done these sorts of things in the past and I don’t expect that we will” unless Iran changes its position on its nuclear program.