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Iranian FM says he expects agreement with Washington on interest section, direct US flights
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki speaks to the media after talks with his Turkish counterpart Ali Babacan in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, July 18, 2008. Mottaki said Friday that forthcoming nuclear talks in Geneva and the participation of a U. S. diplomat for first time look positive and he expects progress. - photo by Associated Press
    ANKARA, Turkey — Iran’s foreign minister said Friday that he expects weekend talks with the United States to produce agreements on opening an American diplomatic outpost in Tehran and restoring direct flights between the two nations.
    Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran backs both moves, which he said reflected a mutual ‘‘will to do business.’’
    ‘‘I think there might be an agreement both on the issue of opening a U.S. interest section in Iran and on the issue of direct flights to Iran,’’ Mottaki told reporters at a joint news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan. ‘‘We support this development between the people.’’
    The U.S. State Department spokesman has been pushing for the Bush administration to open an interest section in Tehran similar to one in Havana. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in response to Mottaki’s comments that ‘‘Washington was always looking for ways to try to reach out to the Iranian people.’’
    But he said the ‘‘only real drama’’ at the talks Saturday in Geneva between Iran and the U.S. and five other world powers would be whether Tehran would offer a positive response to a package of incentives for it to halt uranium enrichment.
    ‘‘That’s the issue at hand this weekend,’’ McCormack said. ‘‘As for, you know, as for these other issues, again, you know, interesting idea.’’
    Mottaki told reporters in Turkey that the nuclear negotiations appeared to be heading in a positive direction, particularly because U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns will attend the talks on Saturday — the first direct U.S. presence at talks with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator.
    ‘‘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 said.
    ‘‘We hope good results will come out if the process continues in this way,’’ Mottaki said.
    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Washington that the shift in policy is a signal the administration is serious about diplomacy, but does not mean Washington is ready for open-ended discussions with Iran, which can only occur after Tehran halts activities that could lead to development of atomic weapons.
    In Paris, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the talks offered ‘‘hope that there can be a peaceful solution’’ to the standoff.
    But he also told reporters that he expects no quick changes from Iran, which has said that ‘‘the essentials’’ will not be on the table.
    ‘‘I hope a lot and I expect nothing,’’ Kouchner told reporters at a regular briefing.
    The U.S. and Iran broke off diplomatic relations after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and the taking of U.S. hostages by hard-line Iranian students. U.S. interests in Iran are currently represented by the Swiss Embassy in Tehran.
    U.S. officials say Burns will be listening, not negotiating, at the meeting of the group of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — and Germany, which they insist is a ‘‘one-time event.’’ But his mere presence signals a significant change in President George W. Bush’s approach toward Iran, which he has consistently tried to ostracize from the global economic and diplomatic scenes.
    Iran has rebuffed all efforts so far 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.
    Asked to comment on possible U.S. and Israeli strikes on his country, the Iranian minister told Turkey’s private NTV television: ‘‘the possibility is close to zero.’’
    ‘‘We don’t think that an attack is probable,’’ he told NTV.
    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.
    Associated Press writer Selcan Hacaoglu contributed to this report.

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