WASHINGTON: The Bush administration has shelved plans to set up a diplomatic outpost in Iran in part over fears that it could affect the U.S. presidential race or be interpreted as political meddling.

The proposal to send U.S. diplomats to Tehran for the first time in 30 years attracted great attention when it was floated this year but has been placed on indefinite hold as U.S. election nears and Iran allegedly continues to defy demands to halt nuclear activities, said officials.

They said it had been decided to leave the decision to the next U.S. President because it could be seen as a reward for Iran’s nuclear programme, especially when Iranian policy has become a major part of the heated campaign between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain. Mr. Obama has called for unconditional direct talks with the leaders of potential U.S. foes like Iran and North Korea, assuming that groundwork laid by lower-level officials indicated that the top-level talks would be fruitful. Mr. McCain has ridiculed the suggestion as naive. — AP