UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Iran's foreign minister took a small step Friday toward long-sought U.S. diplomatic contact with Tehran, attending an eight-nation meeting to promote peace in Afghanistan.

The 90-minute meeting was believed to be the first time American and Iranian officials on such a high level worked together on a specific issue since the 1979 hostage crisis.

``I think it was a useful meeting,'' Albright said when asked about the session's significance on U.S.-Iran relations. ``I think when there are problems to be solved like this together, this is encouraging.''

Albright said she and Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi were on opposite sides of the horseshoe-shaped table and didn't have a one-on-one conversation during the 90 minute session.

Nevertheless, she said she was pleased that Iran and the United States took the same stand deploring Afghanistan's drug trafficking and human rights record and its harboring of terrorists.

``I was very encouraged by the similarity of views that we all had,'' Albright said.

In her speech to the seven other members of the Afghan group, Albright said the United States was particularly concerned about the impact on Iran of drug trafficking in Central Asia and called for ``closer contact among ourselves'' to bring peace to Afghanistan.

Albright had lingered at the doorway at the end of the meeting, looking inside the small conference room where Kharrazi remained, but eventually walked out to a gaggle of reporters outside. Kharrazi walked out behind Albright while she was at the microphone.

The United States accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism but nevertheless has been seeking to improve relations with Tehran since the 1997 election of President Mohammad Khatami, a reform-minded cleric. Earlier this year, the United States lifted a ban on U.S. imports of Iranian luxury goods and called for a ``new relationship'' with the country.

But Khatami said in New York last week that ``serious issues'' must be resolved between the two countries before there can be dialogue. Iran has called for U.S. sanctions to be lifted entirely and for an end to support by some U.S. lawmakers for opposition groups Tehran accuses of being terrorists.

In his speech to the General Assembly on Friday, Kharrazi called for international efforts to combat terrorism.

Friday's meeting was yet another attempt by the United States to reach out to Tehran.

During the U.N. Millennium Summit last week, President Clinton attended Khatami's speech. Albright was also in the audience when Khatami addressed a conference on the sidelines of the summit on the importance of forging a ``dialogue among civilizations.''

A week before the summit, four U.S. lawmakers, including Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, met with the speaker of Iran's parliament, or Majlis, Mehdi Karrubi, during a cocktail reception in New York, the first such meeting of U.S. and Iranian lawmakers since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Two years ago, hopes were raised that Albright and Kharrazi would meet at a similar ministerial level meeting of an eight-nation group on Afghanistan on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly ministerial debate.

But at the last minute, Kharrazi didn't show up, sending a deputy in his place. At that time, it was highest-level diplomatic contact between the two countries.

Albright referred to that 1998 meeting when asked about the significance of Friday's contact.

In a final statement issued after the meeting, the ministers expresed grave concern over the intensification of fighting in Afghanistan and the serious humanitarian impact on the civilian population. They called on the warring sides to work towards a political solution.