U.S. Undecided on Diplomatic Post in Iran

Despite U.K. report, officials say final call on interest section not yet made.

ByABC News
February 18, 2009, 3:17 PM

July 17, 2008 — -- Senior U.S. officials tell ABC News that no decision has yet been made on whether to open the first American diplomatic post in Iran in almost 30 years despite a British newspaper report to the contrary.

An unsourced story in The Guardian newspaper said the Bush administration will announce next month that it plans to open an interest section, an official post short of an embassy, in Tehran.

Such a decision would put American officials in Iran for the first time since 52 diplomats were held hostage for 444 days from 1979 to 1981.

The administration has said in the past that it is considering establishing an interest section in Iran, but today would not confirm the report that a decision had been reached.

"We're not going to discuss internal deliberations of the U.S. government," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

U.S. officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the administration, said the administration has considered establishing an interest section in Iran for several years. The hope is that such a diplomatic presence would send a positive message to the Iranian people, the officials said.

Establishing an interest section would not formally re-establish diplomatic ties with Iran, which were severed in 1980 during the Iran hostage crisis, but would provide a venue for processing U.S. visa applications and interacting with the Iranian population.

Iran would have to approve the establishment of such an American diplomatic presence. So far the Iranian response has ranged widely, from saying they are not opposed to the idea, to dismissal of the proposal as "propaganda."

The concept of an American interest section in Tehran has received support from members of both parties on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it was a "good idea."

"A diplomatic presence would increase our knowledge of the forces at work inside Iran," Biden said. "It would give us a stronger diplomatic hand to play. And it would decrease the chances of miscalculation and would also help us more effectively operate exchange programs so as to increase contacts between Americans and the Iranian people."