THE HAGUE, Netherlands – A senior U.S. official met with an Iranian diplomat during an international conference Tuesday, marking the Obama administration’s biggest step so far to reach out to the Islamic regime in Tehran.
Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, had a “brief but cordial” meeting with the official, a deputy foreign minister, said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who led the U.S. delegation.
The encounter, during an international conference on Afghanistan, was the administration’s first face-to-face meeting with Iranian officials and represents an early overture in President Barack Obama’s effort to re-establish contacts after 30 years of hostility.
Clinton told reporters that Iran’s participation at the meeting marked “a promising sign that there will be future cooperation” between Tehran and other world powers on how to deal with the deepening problems of Afghanistan.
Afterward, the deputy foreign minister, Mehdi Akhundzadeh, denied any negotiations took place with U.S. officials. “It is neither on our agenda nor have we any plans to negotiate with the Americans,” he said.
Nonetheless, the private meeting seemed to suggest Tehran at least wants to continue exploring what its longtime adversaries in Washington have to offer.