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US Denies Considering Expanded Ties with Iran


The Bush administration said Thursday it is not considering any upgrade of diplomatic contacts with Iran. The remarks followed a newspaper report that an overture to set up a low-level official relationship with Iran was an option under discussion in Washington.

The Bush administration says it is not contemplating any upgrade of contacts with Iran, and in fact is taking a "tougher-minded" approach to Tehran of late, because of its alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons, support for terrorism, and oppression of its own citizens.

The comments from the State Department followed a Wall Street Journal report that the department has circulated a policy paper proposing expanded contacts with the Tehran government, including a proposed overture to set up sub-embassy level diplomatic "interests sections" in the two capitals.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack did not deny the existence of a policy paper proposing changes in the U.S. approach to Tehran.

However, he said senior policy makers in the administration are not proposing any broadening of relations, or other incentives for Iran to change its behavior, and said Iran's diplomatic isolation is self-imposed:

"Secretary Rice, (and) senior policy-makers are not contemplating any new incentives, any incentives for Iran to change its behavior," said Mr. McCormack. "Iran through its own actions has isolated itself, and I think it is now up to Iran to demonstrate that it wants to reverse the course that it is currently on, and that is a course of greater isolation from the international community."

The two countries have not had a formal diplomatic relationship since Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979, when student militants seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held American diplomats and other officials hostage for more than a year.

Spokesman McCormack said that when the United States has a message to convey to Iran it can do so through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents U.S. interests there, the Pakistani embassy in Washington, which performs a similar role for Iran, or through other channels including contacts at the United Nations.

The United States has taken part in multilateral meetings in recent years at which Iran has been represented, including so-called "six-plus-two" meetings in Geneva of countries bordering on, or having interests in, Afghanistan.

The Wall Street Journal said an overture to Iran to set up interests sections was one of a number of ideas for influencing Iranian behavior in a State Department briefing paper circulated among President Bush's top foreign policy advisers.

The newspaper said the document also contained proposals for supporting democratization in Iran, including increasing U.S. funded television broadcasts into Iran, stepping up funding for non-governmental organizations that promote democracy there, and setting up a U.S. public diplomacy office in the region focusing on Iran.

A senior diplomat who spoke to reporters here denied an assertion by the Wall Street Journal that principal administration foreign policy advisers had planned a meeting on Iran Thursday.

He also said a lot of papers are produced and circulated at various levels in the administration, but that top officials are making no changes in policy toward Iran.

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