‘DIRECT DIPLOMACY’ WITH IRAN…. Ambassador Rice gets the diplomatic ball rolling.

President Barack Obama’s administration will engage in “direct diplomacy” with Iran, the newly installed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Monday.

Not since before the 1979 Iranian revolution are U.S. officials believed to have conducted wide-ranging direct diplomacy with Iranian officials. But U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice warned that Iran must meet U.N. Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment before any talks on its nuclear program.

“The dialogue and diplomacy must go hand in hand with a very firm message from the United States and the international community that Iran needs to meet its obligations as defined by the Security Council. And its continuing refusal to do so will only cause pressure to increase,” she told reporters during a brief question-and-answer session.

Specifically, Rice said the U.S. remains “deeply concerned about the threat that Iran’s nuclear program poses to the region, indeed to the United States and the entire international community.” She added, “We look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy that includes direct diplomacy with Iran, as well as continued collaboration and partnership” with members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany.

Rice’s comments caused a bit of a stir, but when asked about the remarks earlier, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Rice was merely restating Obama’s policy on Iran.

On a related note, Laura Rozen has heard that, last week’s envoy event notwithstanding, former Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross will, in fact, be a special U.S. envoy to Iran for the Obama administration.

Obama has made some comments about Iran’s nuclear program that have raised questions about how much different his policy will be from Bush’s. So far, though, there’s ample evidence of a very significant shift.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.