Will the U.S. open an office in Iran?
Secretary Rice has floated the idea of an interests-section office – a step down from an embassy.
With President Bush trying to burnish his diplomatic credentials on a series of fronts, the State Department is pushing the envelope by suggesting it may be time to open a permanent American presence in – of all places – Tehran.Skip to next paragraph
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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has recently floated the idea of opening a US interests-section office in the capital of Iran – the last member of Mr. Bush's 2002 "axis of evil." An interests-section office, which is basically an embassy without an ambassador, allows for a US presence in a country with which the United States has no formal diplomatic relations.
The US has had no permanent presence in Tehran since the storming of the American embassy there and the taking of US diplomats as hostages during the 1979 Iranian revolution. The idea of now establishing a US office reflects other shifts in Bush's second term from confrontation and isolation of enemies to engagement and multilateralism. What the initiative is not, some experts say, is any indication of a shift by the administration to begin talks with the regime in Tehran. Indeed, with new reporting out this week about clandestine White House efforts to undermine Iran's rulers, some observers see the idea of a US presence in Tehran more as a ruse than as a serious proposal.
"If anything, I see this as a way to embarrass the Iranians," says Jon Alterman, a Middle East specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. "It's not a serious diplomatic consideration, but more of a public-diplomacy gambit. It's being floated as one way to deal with a country with which we are fighting a war of ideas."
Secretary Rice and other State Department officials say the point of opening such an office in Tehran, which all say remains in the exploratory stage, would be to allow the US to establish closer ties to the Iranian people. As such, the office would be an extension of a policy that the administration began last year by launching a $75 million effort to promote democracy in Iran. The effort has aimed to boost contacts with students, labor unions, and rights and dissident political groups.
One purpose of an interests-section office would be to perform consular duties – such as issuing visas – that the US is not able to carry out in Iran. Currently, Iranians wishing to visit the US must apply with the nearest US consulate, across the Persian Gulf in Dubai.