U.S. diplomat to meet with Iran

July 16, 2008|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON - President Bush has authorized the most significant U.S. diplomatic contact with Iran since the Islamic revolution in 1979, sending the State Department's third-ranking official to Geneva for a meeting this weekend on Iran's nuclear program, administration officials said yesterday.

The decision appeared to bend, if not exactly break, the administration's insistence that it would not negotiate with Iran over its nuclear programs unless it first suspended uranium enrichment, as demanded by three resolutions of the U.N. Security Council.

Still, after months of accusations and counteraccusations from the United States and Iran, the meeting raised the prospect of an intensified diplomatic push to resolve concerns over Iranian nuclear activity.

William J. Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, will attend a meeting Saturday with the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and Iran's nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, a senior administration official said.

At the meeting, Jalili is expected to present Iran's formal response to a package of economic and diplomatic incentives that Germany and the Security Council's five permanent members presented Iran in June.

The package, which revived an earlier European offer to provide civilian nuclear assistance and increased trade, met at first with official disdain in Iran but has since prompted conflicting signals among senior Iranian officials. That led the administration to conclude that there could be an improved chance of a diplomatic resolution.

Bush approved the contact "to press the advantage," a second official said.

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