Iran Denies Plans to Meet Albright, but Sees Positive Move in US Position
Iran's foreign ministry said Saturday that the presence of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at a meeting in New York attended by Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi showed an evolution in the US position, but denied the two planned a face-to-face meeting.
Albright had originally not intended to participate in the meeting of the 6+2 group made up of Afghanistan's neighbors, Russia and the United States, "but since she did attend, this is a development," said ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi quoted by the official IRNA news agency.
Albright at first maintained her diary was too full to attend, he said.
However, there had never been any plans for a bilateral meeting between the two ministers, he said.
Albright said Friday she was encouraged by the similarity of views between Washington and Tehran over the problems in Afghanistan.
"I was very encouraged by the similarity of the views that we all had," Albright said following a round-table discussion attended by Kharrazi that marked the first ministerial meeting in 20 years at which both Iran and the United States were present.
Albright said she had not directly engaged Kharrazi, who was sitting about seven meters (20 feet) from her around the table along with the foreign ministers of China, Russia and Pakistan.
"We were sitting on opposite sides of the table, so we didn't have a conversation, but I was very interested in the similarity of our views on the problems of Afghanistan," Albright told reporters.
"I think it was a useful meeting," she added. "All in all, I think when there are problems to be solved like this together, this is encouraging."
She said the group had discussed "the bloodshed caused by the Taliban," Afghanistan's ruling militia, "the deplorable human rights record and problems involved with terrorism and narco-trafficking."
Albright and Kharrazi arrived and left separately from the meeting of the so-called "Six plus Two" group, the first at the foreign minister level in two years, to discuss new fighting between the Islamist Taliban regime and its opponents based in northern Afghanistan.
Kharrazi did not speak to reporters.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan chaired the meeting of the group that includes Afghanistan's six immediate neighbors, Russia and the United States.
Annan took advantage of the fact that many foreign ministers were in New York for the start of the 55th UN General Assembly to call the meeting, UN officials said, adding that its main purpose was to bring Albright and Kharrazi together.
Albright, who traveled to Washington on Friday morning to participate in White House events for the state visit of Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, flew back to New York in time for the meeting.
She attended the last six-plus-two meeting two years ago, but Iran did not send its foreign minister.
Although not a bilateral meeting, the Albright-Kharrazi encounter follows several signs this month of a thaw in relations between the two countries which were frozen after the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979.
On September 5, Albright attended a meeting at which Iranian President Mohammad Khatami spoke on the need for a dialogue among civilizations.
Albright did not speak at that meeting, but a State Department official said she had changed her travel plans in order to be present "because it is part of our policy toward Iran to seek dialogue."
The following day, US President Bill Clinton remained in the UN General Assembly hall after giving the first speech by a head of state at the UN Millennium Summit, to hear Khatami's address.
In his speech, Khatami made no specific mention of the United States, but said: "We should listen in earnest to what other cultures offer."
But on September 7, he told a press conference Iran wanted "some practical measures" from Washington before diplomatic relations could be restored.
Khatami said it would be a positive step for Washington to acknowledge US involvement in the coup that restored the Shah of Iran to power in 1953.
A White House official shrugged off the demand, but said: "We do very much believe in an official dialogue with Iran."
On August 30, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Mehdi Karubi, met three members of the US Congress at a reception in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art -- AFP
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