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Page last updated at 06:46 GMT, Thursday, 17 July 2008 07:46 UK

US diplomats 'to return to Iran'

Condoleezza Rice (pictured 10 July)
Condoleezza Rice has said the US wants to reach out to Iranian people

The US has refused to deny reports that it will establish a US diplomatic presence in Iran in the next month.

The UK's Guardian newspaper reports the US plans to open an interests section in Tehran, its first diplomatic presence in the country for 30 years.

The state department said its policy towards Iran was unchanged, but that it wanted to reach out to Iranians.

It comes as the US announced that a top diplomat would attend talks in Geneva with the Iranians on Saturday.

The talks will be the first time in 30 years that such a high-ranking US diplomat - the third-most senior in the US - has met Iranian officials.

Change of tone

US officials said recently that the idea of a diplomatic presence in Iran was being discussed, but that it was not being actively worked on.

The unsourced Guardian report said that the interests section - a step towards setting up an embassy - would be similar to the one in Cuba.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, centre, visits the Natanz uranium enrichment facility on 8 April 2008

When asked for a comment, the state department sent out a note with past comments made by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

She said that while US policy towards Iran was known and unchanged, the Iranian people deserved better.

Ms Rice added that the US was determined to find ways to reach out to the Iranian people and wanted more Iranians to visit the US.

While Washington still insists Iran must suspend uranium enrichment - a process the West fears could be used to make nuclear weapons - there seems to be a significant change in US tone, says the BBC's Kim Ghattas in Washington.

Tehran has an interests section in Washington, where it processes visa applications and which gives it a presence on the ground in the US.

But the US has not had a diplomatic presence in Iran since the hostage crisis in 1979, and Iranians have to go to Dubai to get US visas.


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