State Department officials are acknowledging an internal debate over
whether the United States should open a diplomatic interests section in
Tehran. Iran said Tuesday it would consider a request from the United
States to open a diplomatic presence. VOA's David Gollust reports from
the State Department.
The idea of opening a U.S. interests
section in Tehran, first raised in a story Monday by the Washington
Post, would seem to run counter to the Bush administration's policy of
isolating Iran over its refusal to stop enriching uranium.
in a talk with reporters en route to Europe Monday, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice pointedly refused to rule out such a step, saying she
preferred not to comment on what she termed U.S. internal deliberations.
hours later, Iran's official news agency said Tehran is ready in
principle to consider such a request if one is made by the United
Formal diplomatic relations between the two countries
were severed after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, when student
militants took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held American
diplomats and others hostage for more than a year.
of the two countries have interacted in various venues over the years,
and Iran has quietly operated its own interests section in Washington
for several years, technically part of the embassy of Pakistan.
a news briefing Tuesday, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey
reiterated comments by Secretary Rice that despite its differences with
the Iranian government, the United States is looking for ways to reach
out to the Iranian people.
"Our issues with the current Iranian
government including its nuclear program as well as its support for
terrorist activities do not in any way mean hostility or animosity on
the part of the U.S. toward the Iranian people and we have great
respect for the Iranian people and for Iranian civilization," said Tom
Casey. "And you've seen as well through some of the exchange activities
that have been done, based on sports, medicine or art, that we're
continually looking for ways to be able to find new means to reach out
to the Iranian people."
The United States has an office in the
Gulf state of Dubai dealing with routine visa matters for Iranians who
visit the United States, while the Swiss embassy in Tehran handles U.S.
interests in Iran.
Officials here say an American interests
section in Tehran would be similar to the one operated by the United
States in the Cuban capital Havana.
They say it would be
somewhat awkward for Iran to turn down a U.S. request for such a
mission, given Iran's diplomatic presence in Washington, which
operates openly and even has its own internet website.
Rice, in her airborne comments Monday, said the United States wants
more Iranians to visit the United States and acknowledged it is
difficult for would-be Iranian visitors to access the visa office in
Rice has repeatedly offered open-ended U.S. political
dialogue with Iran, if the Tehran government heeds U.N. Security
Council calls to suspend its uranium enrichment effort, which officials
here believe is weapons-related.
A senior State Department
official Tuesday declined to assess the chances for an American
interests section to be opened in Tehran this year, but citing the
example of the U.S. mission in Havana, he said stranger things have