Bush to Seek Diplomatic Presence in Iran

A05292043.jpgTEHRAN (FNA)- The Bush administration will announce in mid-November, after the presidential election, that it intends to establish the first US diplomatic presence in Iran since 1979, according to senior Bush administration officials.

The proposal for an “interests section,” which falls short of a full US Embassy, has been conveyed in private diplomatic messages to Iran, and a search is under way to choose the American diplomat who would head the post, the officials said.

Iranian officials have repeatedly stressed that they have not yet received any such request from Washington.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last month that he would consider the idea, which first surfaced over the summer.

The US had close ties to Iran’s deposed shah, who was overthrown in 1979. However, Iran should be and actually is suspicious of US attempts to expand its influence in the country.

Earlier this month, an Iranian official said that Iran would refuse to allow a US-based nonprofit group, the American-Iranian Council, to operate here even after it received a Treasury Department license to do so.

Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, has criticized the Bush administration’s penchant for not talking to US enemies, and has indicated that he would hold direct talks, even with the Iranian president.

Republican nominee Sen. John McCain has ridiculed Obama and his foreign policy as naive.

Yet in his waning days in office, President Bush has authorized a more direct approach to Iran, sending Undersecretary of State William Burns to participate in six-nation nuclear talks with Iranian representatives in Geneva in July.

Observers believe that the shift of policy by the White House to send William Burns – the third highest-ranking diplomat in the US – to the latest round of Iran-West talks happened after Bush’s attempt to rally international pressure against Iran lost steam due to the growing international vigilance.

US President George W. Bush finished a tour of the Middle East in winter to gain the consensus of his Arab allies to unite against Iran.

But hosting officials of the regional nations dismissed Bush’s allegations, describing Tehran as a good friend of their countries.

Following the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and similar reports by the IAEA head – one in November and the other one in February – which praised Iran’s truthfulness about key aspects of its past nuclear activities and announced settlement of outstanding issues with Tehran, many world nations have called the UN Security Council pressure against Iran unjustified, stressing that Tehran’s case should be normalized and returned to the UN nuclear watchdog.

Among other things, the US diplomats in Tehran would facilitate cultural exchanges; issue visas for Iranians to travel to the US; and engage in public diplomacy to present a more charitable view of the US, Washington officials said.

The US and Iran don’t have formal diplomatic relations, which were broken by President Carter in April 1980, following the November 1979 seizure of the US espionage center at its Embassy in Tehran by Iranian students.

US interests in Iran are looked after by the Swiss. Iran has a small interests section in Washington under Pakistan’s embassy.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in New York in July that Iran would insist on a quid pro quo for permitting a US interests section: approval of its standing request for direct flights between Tehran and New York.

While some senior officials said Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice haven’t made a final decision, they and others indicated that the mid-November announcement is a near-certainty.

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