WASHINGTON Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki is visiting Washington to inspect Iran's unofficial diplomatic office in the U.S. capital, but there are no plans for him to meet U.S. officials, the State Department said on Wednesday.
One day before Iran meets in Geneva with the United States and other powers worried about its nuclear program, the State Department said it granted Mottaki's request to visit the Iranian interests section at the Pakistani Embassy, which represents Tehran in Washington in the absence of diplomatic ties.
"I wouldn't read too much into this ... it was a straightforward request and we granted it," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told a news briefing, saying there were no plans for Mottaki to meet U.S. officials or anyone acting on behalf of the U.S. government.
"As to what interactions he has here, I don't know. I refer you to the Iranians," he said.
Crowley declined to describe the U.S. move to allow Mottaki's visit as a gesture ahead of the Geneva talks, which U.S. President Barack Obama has described as a chance for Tehran to allay rising Western fears that its nuclear program has military aims.
"We are far more interested in having Iran come tomorrow to Geneva and we hope that they will be the ones who are offering gestures that they are ready to address concerns that the international community has," he said.
However, a U.S. official acknowledged the possibility that the visit could set a better tone for Thursday's meeting.
"From our standpoint the really important meeting is tomorrow," said a U.S. official who spoke to reporters on condition that he not be identified. "If this gesture today leads us in a constructive direction tomorrow, terrific."
The one-day talks in Switzerland will bring the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- together with Germany to meet Iranian officials.
Tehran has repeatedly said it will refuse to negotiate over its nuclear program, which it describes as peaceful.
The United States and other powers have suggested that Iran could be subjected to more economic and political sanctions if it fails to increase transparency over its uranium enrichment program.
(reporting by Arshad Mohammed; editing by Andrew Quinn)