U.S. Open to Iran Talks Under Certain Conditions

The United States is willing to open a dialogue with Iran (search) but any such initiative would hinge on the Islamic Republic's fulfillment of its international obligations, the State Department said Tuesday.

Spokesman Adam Ereli acknowledged that there had been some positive movement recently, including the dispatch of U.S. earthquake relief to Iran. But, he said, American concerns about Iran's weapons and its role in support of Islamic militants in the Middle East remain a serious concern.

"Iran's follow through on its commitments is critical," Ereli said, alluding to that country's recent pledge to allow surprise international inspections of its nuclear facilities.

The two countries have not had diplomatic relations since shortly after the Iran hostage crisis began in 1979.

Only rarely has there been direct diplomatic contact, including a brief period earlier this year when there were exchanges on the situations in Iraq (search) and Afghanistan (search), both neighbors of Iran.

The Clinton administration, following the election of a moderate president in 1997, publicly encouraged the opening of political discussions but the proposal was vetoed by conservative clerics who dominate Iran's national security establishment.

Following the tragic earthquake in southeastern Iran last Friday, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage placed a phone call to Iran's U.N. envoy, Javad Zariv, who was in Tehran.

Armitage called at 3 a.m. Tehran time with an offer of U.S. disaster assistance. To the surprise of U.S. officials, Zariv returned the call within 30 minutes.

Ereli said the United States is dispatching 300 rolls of plastic sheeting to Iran, enough to provide shelter for 3,000 families. He said blankets also are being sent.

In addition, the administration also is sending 84 disaster relief relief specialists, including 60 government medical professionals, to Iran.

Ereli said the signs of cooperation do not diminish American concern about Iran's support for Islamic groups on the U.S. terrorism list.

He called Iran one of the foremost sponsors of terrorism worldwide.

Nonetheless, he said, "We've always left open the possibility of engaging in a dialogue with Iran at the appropriate time."