A reportedly planned soccer match between the United States and Iran drew support from the US government on Monday, with an official saying the contest would be in line with Washington’s willingness to negotiate directly with Tehran.
“We’ve always said we were open to direct negotiations and talks with the Iranians, so where better place than the soccer field?” US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told a briefing in Washington.
Harf’s comments follow reports last week citing Iranian Football Federation President Ali Kafashian as saying that the US Soccer Federation is interested in including Iran in a four-team tournament next year in the United States in preparation for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“We received approval from the US federation to attend the tournament,” Iranian media cited Kafashian as saying Thursday, the Tehran Times reported.
While she expressed support for such a match, Harf said Monday that she had not seen the reports.
Talk of the possible soccer match comes in the wake of a historic turn in ties between Washington and Tehran. US President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke by telephone last month at the conclusion of the United Nations General Assembly, the first conversation between leaders of the two countries in more than three decades.
The phone call followed a series of overtures from both sides suggesting a possible rapprochement over Tehran’s nuclear program.
US Soccer Federation spokesman Neil Buethe did not confirm whether the Americans had been in talks with Iranian soccer officials about a possible match.
But he said US soccer officials are “reaching out to all federations that have qualified for the World Cup” and have been “actively talking to numerous federations” that have qualified for the tournament about playing in the United States “in late May and early June.”
“We work closely with the State Department to assist with the logistics for any country that we invite to play games in the States,” Buethe said. “The State Department is aware that we have reached out to numerous countries about the possibility of coming to the US prior to the World Cup.”
The US and Iranian sides, both of which have qualified for the World Cup, have only met twice on the soccer field.
Iran downed the Americans 2-1 in the 1998 World Cup in France, while the teams played to a 1-1 draw in a friendly two years later in Pasadena, California.