Secretary of State Colin Powell says the Bush administration is exploring prospects for improved U.S. relations with Iran. Mr. Powell will join his Iranian counterpart for at least one multilateral meeting early next week at the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Mr. Powell says he doesn't foresee a point in either the near or long term future when the United States and Iran will be allies.
But at the same time, he says the administration is willing to explore opportunities for improving a relationship that was severed in terms of official ties after the Islamic revolution and takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979.
The secretary made the comments in an interview Friday with the Fox News Channel as he prepared to leave for New York and three days of diplomatic meetings on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
There are no plans for Mr. Powell to meet one-on-one with his Iranian counterpart Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi in New York. But both will take part in a meeting Monday at the U.N. of the so-called "6 + 2" grouping made up of Iran and five other countries bordering Afghanistan along with the United States and Russia.
The United States and Iran have some shared interests in the global terrorism crisis including a mutual dislike of the Taleban authorities in Afghanistan.
However the secretary told his Fox interviewer that for the United States and Iran to be partners in the anti-terrorism cause, Tehran will have to renounce all forms of terror, an apparent reference to Iran's support for the radical Hezbollah and Hamas groups in the Middle East.
"We have made it clear that if they want to be a member this campaign against terrorism, then it has to be against all forms of terrorism and not just the terrorism that they happen to condemn today," said Mr. Powell. "They have a choice to make. And we are exploring those opportunities and those openings with Iran and I hope to do so over the weekend at meetings in New York."
Mr. Powell said there have been some "interesting" developments in Iran of late, including reported public demonstrations there that have had a pro-American flavor.
The secretary said he believes there has always been a "well of friendship" among the Iranian people for Americans despite the years of official hostility by the government.
He noted the two competing factions in Iran, the hardline religious leadership and the more moderate element represented by President Mohamed Khatami, and said it remains to be seen, as he put it, "where this takes us."