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IRAN: Jumbo jet diplomacy versus fighter jet possibilities

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First anonymous U.S. officials tell reporters they’re interested in maybe, possibly expanding the minuscule Iranian interests section in Tehran.

Then Condoleezza Rice says publicly that she believes there should be more people-to-people exchange between Iranians and Americans, even as Tehran and Washington are embroiled in a huge fight over Iran’s nuclear program.

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Now comes word that Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran’s foreign minister, is pushing a proposal to resume direct flights between Iran and the United States to facilitate the visits of Iranian nationals living in America and tourists who might be interested in visiting the Islamic Republic, and confirmed earlier reports that Iran would consider the expansion of its interest section.

Mottaki’s remarks to a big of group of reporters in New York were summarized on the website of Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

Contacts between Iranians and the American people will be a useful step for better understanding of the two nations. Iranian academics and students have invited their American counterparts to the country to share their research and scientific achievements. By visiting Iran, the American people can acquire the truth about Iran.

Iran is currently mulling a package of European and American-backed economic, political and security incentives meant to convince Tehran to halt its production of enriched uranium, a process which can be used to produce fuel for a nuclear power plant or explosive material for an atomic bomb.

It could be that the softened tone among diplomats -- as opposed to think tank or military folks -- is a prelude to a breakthrough in Iran-U.S. relations.

But far more likely, both sides are trying to paint themselves as positively as possible in the eyes of European diplomats and world public opinion in case Iran either:

  1. Outright refuses to halt its uranium enrichment program and flatly turns down the package of incentives.
  2. Produces a counter-offer that falls short of halting uranium enrichment and lures the Europeans but is turned down by the U.S.

In either case, the crisis between Iran and the U.S. may dramatically deepen, leading to another round of sanctions on Iran and perhaps bringing the two countries to the edge of armed conflict.
At that point, public perceptions in the Middle East and among European negotiators as to who’s been diplomatic and who’s been belligerent will matter greatly.

Iranian officials are well aware of this dynamic. The Times reported today on comments to a newspaper by Ali Akbar Velayati, a high-level adviser to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urging Iranian officials to tone down their rhetoric and choose their words carefully.

Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East. You can subscribe by registering at the website here.


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