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 4.
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 yesterday, 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 said in Washington. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was in Honduras yesterday, attending a gathering of the Organization of American States.
U.S. 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.
Although the Obama administration has said it would like to build ties to other nations shunned by previous presidents, including Cuba, the instructions sent Friday concern only Iran.
It was not immediately clear how many embassies and consulates would actually invite Iranian diplomats to the July Fourth 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 efforts to engage Iran in a variety of venues, including formal diplomatic meetings over its nuclear program, violence in Iraq, and the situation in Afghanistan.
Iran has given mixed responses to the overtures, which began early in the administration when President 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 United States and others accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran maintains it is interested in only a civilian atomic energy program.
In an interview with the BBC made public yesterday, Obama said that it was in the world's interest - and Iran's interest - "to set aside ambitions for a nuclear weapon."