A group of U.S. Congressional aides will visit Iran in February, a possible prelude to a trip by legislators, which would be the first of its kind since Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979. The Bush administration is signaling its approval of the contacts.
Word of the pending Iran visit by Congressional staffers came from Republican Senator Arlen Specter, who was among a bipartisan group of legislators who met Wednesday in Washington with Iran's U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Javad Zarif.
Mr. Specter told reporters he hoped the visit would lead to trips to Iran by members of Congress and later by administration officials. The State Department authorized the Washington visit by Mr. Zarif and department spokesman Richard Boucher made clear the administration would welcome Congressional contacts with Iran.
"We've always encouraged exchanges, people to people exchanges, with Iranians, with Iran. We've certainly encouraged Congressional travel in general," he said. "So I guess it sounds like it would be fine with us if that's what they decided to do."
There have been signs of a thaw in the bilateral relationship since Iran agreed on tighter international scrutiny of its nuclear program in October, and accepted an offer of U.S. relief aid after the earthquake in the city of Bam in late December.