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In Policy Shift, U.S. Envoy to Attend Iran Talks

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns is expected to attend the talks being held in Geneva Saturday. It is the first time the United States will participate directly in nuclear negotiations with Iran, though U.S. officials say Burns will be listening and not negotiating and insist the talks are a “one-time event.”

The goal of the talks is to persuade Tehran to freeze uranium enrichment and end the long stand-off over the program, and to discuss the incentives being offered by the international community and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

On Friday, Iran’s foreign minister expressed approval of the United States’ involvement, calling it a “new positive approach.”

“The new negotiation process [and] the participation of a U.S. diplomat look positive from the outset, but we hope that is reflected in the talks,” Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a joint news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, reported Time Magazine.

Iran has rebuffed past diplomatic attempts to persuade it to stop enrichment and reprocessing in its nuclear facilities.

Burns, the U.S. envoy being dispatched to the talks, has experience in opening up diplomatic ties with isolated nations, the Associated Press reports. In Bush’s first term, he was part of a team that re-established relations with Libya after Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi renounced weapons of mass destruction.

The United States, which severed relations with Iran in 1980 after the Islamic revolution, is also considering a plan for a diplomatic presence in Tehran, The Guardian newspaper reported on Thursday.

The paper reported Washington would announce plans next month to establish a de facto embassy staffed with diplomats, similar to its presence in Cuba. It would be the first time in nearly 30 years that U.S. diplomats would be sent to the country.

Mottaki said no official request for such an outpost has been made, but said that Iran is considering the idea.

“I think there might be an agreement both on the issue of opening a U.S. interest protection bureau in Iran and on the issue of direct flights to Iran,” Mottaki said Friday.

Tensions over Iran have been especially high following missile testing by the country last week. Washington responded to the tests saying the United States would defend its allies in the region.

The country has long claimed that its nuclear program is not for weapons production and for peaceful purposes, like generating electricity. But the program continues to cause concern and suspicion among world powers, especially the United States.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday she is not sure how Iran will respond the incentives being offered, but that “the United States is firmly behind this diplomacy, firmly behind and unified with our allies and hopefully the Iranians will take that message.”

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