WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is considering setting up a diplomatic outpost in Iran in what would mark a dramatic official U.S. return to the country nearly 30 years after the American embassy was overrun and the two nations severed relations.
Even as it threatens the Iranian regime with sanctions and possible military action over its nuclear program, the administration is floating the idea of opening a U.S. interests section in Tehran similar to the one the State Department runs in Havana, diplomatic and political officials told the Associated Press on Monday.
Like the one in communist Cuba, an interest section, or de facto embassy, in the Iranian capital would give the United States a presence on the ground through which it can communicate directly with students, dissidents and others without endorsing the government, one official said.
It would process visa applications and serve as a center for American cultural outreach to locals, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Now, the U.S. has no diplomatic presence in Iran and relies on the Swiss Embassy in Tehran to serve as its “protecting power.” The Swiss now pass messages to the Iranian foreign ministry on Washington’s behalf and handle the affairs of U.S. citizens in the country.
The idea of a separate U.S. flag office was born in part out of concern about Switzerland’s decision earlier this year to sign a long- term gas contract with Iran.
Iran has operated an interests section in Washington for years, processing visa applications and having eyes on the ground in the U.S. capital. But the United States has refused to have any diplomatic presence in Tehran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and embassy hostage crisis.