New York Times: The Bush administration is considering establishing an American diplomatic presence in Iran for the first time since relations were severed during the 444-day occupation of the American Embassy in Tehran nearly three decades ago, European and American officials said on Thursday.
The New York Times
By ELAINE SCIOLINO and SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
Published: July 18, 2008
PARIS — The Bush administration is considering establishing an American diplomatic presence in Iran for the first time since relations were severed during the 444-day occupation of the American Embassy in Tehran nearly three decades ago, European and American officials said on Thursday.
The idea would be to establish a so-called interests section, rather than a fully staffed embassy, with American diplomats who could issue visas to Iranians seeking to visit the United States. But the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under diplomatic rules, cautioned that the idea had not been approved by the White House and could be delayed or blocked by opposition within the administration.
The proposal comes as the White House is adopting new tactics in dealing with Iran. With six months left in office, Mr. 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.
On Saturday, William J. Burns, the State Department’s third-ranking official, is to arrive 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 talks are a first. A department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said on Thursday that an interests section would not be discussed.
One senior European official said that Mr. Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, had told a number of his counterparts in Tokyo in recent weeks that Ms. Rice was committed to moving forward on the decision to put American diplomats in Tehran, but that the decision still faced opposition from conservatives.
“My feeling is that the decision was more or less taken and the administration’s problem was when and how to announce it,” the official said. “They want to do it, but for domestic political reasons they don’t know how and when, and maybe even if, they can do it.”
In Washington on Thursday, the White House and State Department declined to comment, saying they would not discuss internal deliberations. But they did not discount reports that the idea was under consideration.
“We are always looking for ways to engage the people of Iran more, make it easier for them to get visas,” said Gordon D. Johndroe, the deputy White House press secretary.
Iran, for its part, seems to have embraced the idea of a higher American diplomatic presence.
“We welcome any move which would expand human relations,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on state television this week.
But when Manouchehr Mottaki, the foreign minister, was asked about the idea during a news conference in Damascus, Syria, he pointed out, “The request of the United States has been made via the media in a nonofficial fashion.”
Mr. Bush has long said he has no complaint with the Iranian people. His issue, he has said, is with the Iranian government. Ms. Rice echoed that sentiment last week in an interview with the Persian-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She said no final decision had been made on an interests section, “but we are looking for ways that Iranians can have access to the United States.”
There is a small interests section in Tehran administered by the Swiss, who represent American interests in Iran. The Swiss do not have the authority to grant United States visas. Last week, Mr. Burns testified before Congress and was asked about the possibility of establishing an interests section. He seemed to suggest it was under consideration.
He said the idea “is an interesting one, and it’s one that’s worth looking at carefully.”