U.S. changes policy and invites Iranian officials to July 4th events

Other News Materials 2 June 2009 23:55 (UTC +04:00)

Fourth of July parties are a staple of diplomatic life at U.S. embassies around the world, CNN reported.

The usual spread for diplomats, VIP's and expatriates is hamburgers and hot dogs with all the trimmings.

This year something new will be on the Independence Day menu - diplomatic outreach to Iran.

U.S. diplomats will break with the past and invite Iranian officials to 4th of July parties. Iranians had been barred from U.S. contact and events since the break in diplomatic relations after the U.S. embassy takeover and hostage crisis in Tehran almost 30 years ago.

State Department cables have gone out to all diplomatic posts notifying them of the change.

"We review these types of invitations every year, and a decision was made this year to invite officials from Iran," State Department Spokesman Robert Wood said at his midday briefing. "So this is very much in line with our policy of trying to engage the Iranian government."

Wood said the State Department cables went to U.S. posts around the world. U.S. diplomats will decide on their own how to proceed.

And the new 4th of July party policy comes amid a standoff between Washington and Tehran over Iran's nuclear program. Iran says its nuclear enrichment research and development is for civilian purposes only, while many American officials fear it will soon provide Iran with raw materials for nuclear weapons.

Without specific instructions from Washington, U.S. diplomats still cannot conduct in-depth discussions with their Iranian counterparts, a restriction that stays in force - at least for now.

"We have not issued any instructions with regard to substantive discussions with Iranian officials at this point," Wood said.

"Certainly, at a July Fourth type of event, you'll have a lot of meeting and greeting of various officials. But in terms of the substantive policy, I don't believe at this point there has been a change."