U.S.' Rice says wants to reach out to Iranian people

BERLIN Mon Jun 23, 2008 11:36pm BST

BERLIN (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Monday the United States was determined to reach out to the Iranian people despite quarrels with their government over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

However, she sidestepped questions about whether Washington might open an interests section in Iran.

The Washington Post, in a column by Fred Hiatt on the paper's op-ed page, said on Monday that senior officials at the State Department were considering a proposal to open an interest section in Tehran, similar to the one the United States has operated in Havana since 1977.

This would stop short of full diplomatic relations, but such a post could process visas for the United States.

Speaking to journalists who asked about the report en route to an international conference in Berlin on Palestinian security issues and donor pledges, Rice said U.S. policy toward Iran was well-known -- and that she did not want to comment on "internal deliberations".

"The United States has been for some time trying to reach out to the Iranian people in various ways," Rice said. Iranians could travel to Dubai to get U.S. visas, she said, but acknowledged it might not be convenient for them to do so.

"We want more Iranians visiting the U.S.," she said, adding that she favoured cultural exchanges such as visits by artists and athletes. "We are determined to find ways to reach out to the Iranian people."

Iran and the United States cut diplomatic ties shortly after the Iranian revolution of 1979 when the U.S. embassy was seized by hardline students and 52 Americans were taken hostages for 444 days.

The Bush administration accuses Iran of seeking to acquire nuclear weapons and says it could consider using military force to stop it. Rice has said the administration assessed "practically every day" whether to slap more sanctions on Iran.

European Union states agreed on Monday to impose new sanctions on the Islamic Republic, which insists its nuclear is a peaceful programme.

Dealings with Iran have become an issue in the presidential campaign, as White House hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain have sparred over whether U.S. presidents should meet adversaries such as Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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