The State Department said Friday U.S. officials are looking for a reciprocal gesture from Iran after President Barack Obama's conciliatory holiday message to the Iranian people and government Thursday. Mr. Obama said in a broadcast for the Iranian new year holiday Nowruz that the United States wants "honest engagement" with Tehran based on mutual respect.
State Department officials say the broadcast overture by the President is only one of several gestures planned by the administration to back up its expressed interest in better relations with Iran. And they say they're hopeful Iran will at some point respond in a similar fashion so that the two countries - without formal relations for three decades - can open a real dialogue.
At a news briefing, State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood said that the crux of the President's message was that despite the serious differences that have marred the relationship over time, the Obama administration is committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues with Tehran.
Senior Iranian leaders have not given any direct response but Wood signaled patience, saying the process is at an early stage.
"We're at the beginning of this process," he said. "The President has made it clear we're going to engage diplomatically with Iran. We intend to do that. It will be up to the Iranians how they want to reciprocate."
"But I also want to emphasize we still have some very difficult issues that divide us. And what the President has said is that we want to work with Iran on trying to deal with these differences. We're willing to diplomatically engage. It's really going to be up to Iran," he added.
Wood said the problem issues in the relationship include Iranian threats toward Israel and other countries in the region and its nuclear program, which U.S. officials believe is weapons-related despite statements from Tehran that it is for peaceful purposes only.
The administration is continuing a wide-ranging review of policy toward Iran in furtherance of President Obama's assertion shortly after taking office that he is ready to extend a hand of peace to Iran if that country "unclenched its fist."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has welcomed expected Iranian participation in a ministerial-level conference on Afghanistan at the end of this month at the Hague, though officials here have said there are no plans for the secretary to formally meet with the Iranian delegates there.
The State Department confirmed Thursday it is sending a senior diplomat to Moscow for another meeting on Afghanistan next week that Iran will participate in - that meeting being held by the Shanghai group of Russia, China and Central Asian countries.
Diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran were severed after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and the takeover of the U.S. embassy by Iranian militants. But diplomats of the two countries have interacted over the years at United Nations events and other international gatherings.