WASHINGTON — Iran's foreign minister made a rare visit to the U.S. capital Wednesday on a visa granted with unusual speed by the State Department one day before the start of nuclear talks in Geneva.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley played down the significance of the U.S. decision to permit the visit by Manouchehr Mottaki, even though it marked the first time in years that a senior Iranian official has visited Washington.
"I wouldn't read too much into this," Crowley said.
Iran and the U.S. have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1980.
Crowley said Mottaki will not be meeting any U.S. officials or any Americans representing the U.S. government.
Crowley said he did not know how long it has been since an Iranian government official has visited Washington.
The spokesman said the Iranians requested permission for Mottaki to visit a Pakistani government office that represents Iranian interests in Washington. Similarly, U.S. interests in Iran are represented by the Swiss embassy in Tehran.
A U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said Mottaki went to Washington to visit the Iranian interest section and discuss matters related to Iranians living in the United States.
"We thought it was a straightforward request" by the Iranians for an entry visa, Crowley said. "We granted it on that basis. We're far more interested in having Iran come tomorrow to Geneva and we hope they will be the ones offering gestures and that they are ready to address the concerns the international community has."
Iranian officials are to meet Thursday in Geneva with officials from the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany for talks intended to focus on concern that Iran's nuclear program is for military purposes. Iran insists its program is strictly for peaceful use and has refused to negotiate any limits on it.
Crowley said the decision to allow the Iranian visit was made in the last 24 hours, but he was uncertain when the request had been made. He also did not know how long Mottaki will be allowed to stay in Washington.
On Tuesday, Iran allowed Swiss diplomats, representing U.S. interests in Iran, to visit three Americans who have been detained in Tehran since they were arrested for illegal entry in late July. The State Department welcomed the Iranian gesture. Crowley on Wednesday declined to say what the Swiss diplomats learned about the condition of the three Americans, who have had no contact with their families in the U.S.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS that Iranian interest section is in a Pakistani government office, not embassy.)