US drops plan to put diplomats in Iran

Officials say the Bush administration has shelved plans to set up a diplomatic outpost in Iran.

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The Bush administration has shelved plans to set up a diplomatic outpost in Iran in part over fears it could affect the US presidential race or be interpreted as political meddling. The proposal to send US diplomats to Tehran for the first time in three decades attracted great attention, but has been placed on indefinite hold as November's election nears and Iran continues to defy demands to halt suspect nuclear activities, officials told reporters. Two administration officials familiar with the matter spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations on the sensitive subject. The officials said it had been decided to leave the decision to the next US president because it could be seen as a reward for Iran's nuclear intransigence, especially when Iranian policy has become a major part of the heated campaign between the Democrat Barack Obama and the Republican John McCain. Mr Obama has called for unconditional direct talks with the leaders of potential US foes like Iran and North Korea, assuming that groundwork laid by lower-level officials indicated that the top-level talks would be fruitful. Mr McCain has ridiculed the suggestion as naive. Thus, opening an "interest section," or de facto embassy, in Tehran could be interpreted as a Republican president helping a Republican nominee by neutralising a distinction that might make the Democrat appealing. Or, it could be seen as hurting Mr McCain by leaving him to defend a more hard-line position than the current Republican president. Either way, the administration concluded that now was not the time. "There is no desire to inject this into the campaign," the second official said. The idea's demise represents the end of any marquee efforts to remake the US relationship with its most formidable Middle Eastern adversary before George W Bush leaves office. *AP