US Returns to Iran

U.S. plans to return envoys to Iran for first time since 1980

The Bush administration is proposing to install an “interests section” in Tehran after the U.S. presidential election.

The Bush administration will announce in mid-November, after the presidential election, that it intends to establish the first U.S. diplomatic presence in Iran since the 1979-81 hostage crisis, according to senior administration officials.

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

They spoke on condition of anonymity because the step hasn’t been announced and discussions of it have been limited to a small circle of officials.

It’s not known how Iran has responded. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last month that he would consider the idea, which first surfaced over the summer.

The question of whether to deal directly with Iran has punctuated the U.S. presidential campaign.

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

Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, 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 last July in Geneva

The senior administration officials said the plan to open an interests section in Tehran, the Iranian capital, isn’t a move to closer government-to-government ties. Rather, they say, it is an effort to reach out to the Iranian people, many of whom are far less anti-American than their leaders.

Among other things, U.S. diplomats in Tehran would facilitate cultural exchanges, issue visas for Iranians to travel to the United States and engage in public diplomacy to present a more charitable view of the United States.

Formal diplomatic relations were broken by President Jimmy Carter in April 1980 following the November 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by Iranian students. U.S. interests in Iran now are looked after by the Swiss. Iran has a small interests section in Washington under Pakistan’s embassy, but it doesn’t include any Iranian diplomats.



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