ANKARA, Turkey – Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Friday that forthcoming nuclear talks in Geneva and the participation of a U.S. diplomat for the first time look positive and he expects progress.
The U.S. has shifted from its confrontational policy of isolating Iran in favor of a diplomatic approach.
"The new negotiation process (and) the participation of a U.S. diplomat look positive from the outset, but we hope that is reflected in the talks," Mottaki told a joint news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan.
The U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns will attend the talks in Geneva on Saturday — the first time the U.S. has had such a presence — and join colleagues from other world powers to meet with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator.
"We hope good results will come out if the process continues in this way," Mottaki said.
The six-nation group — the group of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — and Germany — has offered Iran incentives to halt activities that could lead to development of nuclear weapons.
U.S. officials say Burns will be listening, not negotiating, at the meeting that they insist is a "one-time event." But his mere presence signals a significant change in President George W. Bush's approach toward Iran, a charter member of what he termed the "axis of evil" in 2002.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that "the United States is firmly behind this diplomacy, firmly behind and unified with our allies and hopefully the Iranians will take that message."
Washington insists it will not negotiate with Iran as it has with North Korea until Tehran halts enriching and reprocessing of uranium. But it is supporting an effort led by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana that would allow early talks with others in the six-nation group before such a step.
Iran has rebuffed the attempt to persuade it to stop enrichment and reprocessing, which can produce the key ingredient for atomic weapons, and insists its nuclear program is designed only to produce electric power. Others, particularly the United States and Israel, maintain it is a cover for weapons development.
As part of its diplomatic efforts, the U.S. administration is also floating a proposal to open a de-facto U.S. Embassy in Tehran. U.S. diplomats would go to Iran for the first time in almost 30 years, since the countries broke relations after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Mottaki, however, insisted on specifically calling a U.S. mission "a U.S. interest-protection bureau," instead of a diplomatic mission.
"I think there might be an agreement both on the issue of opening a U.S. interest-protection bureau in Iran and on the issue of direct flights to Iran," Mottaki said.
Turkey, a close U.S. ally, supports Iran's right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful use but calls on Tehran to be transparent about its nuclear program. Babacan reiterated Turkey's belief that the sides should overcome the standoff through dialogue.