SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — In a new overture to Iran, the Obama administration has authorized U.S. embassies around the world to invite Iranian officials to Independence Day parties they host on or around July 4th.
A State Department cable sent to all U.S. embassies and consulates late last week said that U.S. diplomats could ask their Iranian counterparts to attend the festivities, which generally feature speeches about American values, fireworks, and, of course, hot dogs and hamburgers.
The notice said the posts "may invite representatives from the government of Iran" to the events, a State Department official said Tuesday, quoting from the document. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an internal communication.
"This is very much in line with our policy of trying to engage the Iranian government," department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters in Washington. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was in the Honduras Tuesday, attending a gathering of the Organization of American States.
American embassies overseas, like those of other countries on their national holidays, traditionally throw parties to celebrate the Independence Day holiday. Generally those invited include officials from the host government, diplomats from friendly countries and American expatriates.
In the past, the United States has excluded a short list of pariah nations such as Myanmar and North Korea from such invitation lists. U.S. policy has in the past generally discouraged even informal contact with them at social events, something encouraged by the new directive.
Although the Obama administration has said it would like to build ties to other nations shunned by previous presidents, including Cuba, the instructions sent on Friday concern only Iran.
It was not immediately clear how many embassies and consulates would actually invite Iranian diplomats to the July 4 parties or whether any Iranians would accept the invitations.
The cable was first reported by The New York Times.
The move comes amid the administration's ongoing efforts to engage Iran in variety of venues, including formal diplomatic meetings over its nuclear program, violence in Iraq and the situation in Afghanistan.
But Iran has given mixed responses to the overtures, which began early in the administration when President Barack Obama recorded a videotaped greeting to the Iranian people and its leaders for their new year.
Since then, the administration announced that it would be a full participant with Iranian officials in six-nation talks aimed at getting Iran to address concerns about its suspect nuclear program. The U.S. and others accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran maintains it is only interested in a civilian atomic energy program and has refused to accept a package of incentives offered by the U.S. and its partners to get it to stop enriching uranium, a process that can produce the fuel for a nuclear weapon.
In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation made public Tuesday, Obama said it is in the world's interest _ and Iran's interest _ "to set aside ambitions for a nuclear weapon."
Obama also said that while he didn't want to put "artificial timetables" on diplomacy with Tehran, "we do want to make sure that by the end of this year we've actually seen a serious process move forward. And I think that we can measure whether or not the Iranians are serious."
The president said in the interview he believes Iran is more likely to become an "extraordinarily powerful and prosperous country" if it abandons any nuclear weapons ambitions.
The U.S. also ensured that Iran was invited and attended an international conference on Afghanistan at which Secretary Clinton spoke and an Iranian official had a brief exchange with a senior American diplomat.
During that meeting in The Hague, U.S. delegates passed an informal note to Iranian officials seeking information about three Americans then missing or detained in Iran.
Last month, Iran released one of the Americans, Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, who was tried and convicted of spying for the United States.
Obama and other U.S. officials have said they do not expect to see much movement from Iran until after the country holds presidential elections in the middle of the month, but have sketched a rough deadline of the fall by which they hope to see positive responses to their overtures.