Ahmadinejad Congratulates Obama, Urges 'Real' Change

By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, November 7, 2008

TEHRAN, Nov. 6 -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has congratulated President-elect Barack Obama on his victory, the first time since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution that an Iranian leader has offered such wishes to an American counterpart.

Ahmadinejad wrote a letter to Obama saying Iran would welcome "major, fair and real changes, in policies and actions, especially in this region," according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. Analysts here say the letter indicates that Iran is ready to improve relations with the United States.

In his campaign for the presidency, Obama said he would be ready to talk to Iranian leaders without preconditions. The Bush administration has long insisted that Iran stop enriching uranium before any negotiations can begin; Iran has resisted those demands, maintaining that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Ahmadinejad wrote to Obama that the expectation in the Middle East "is that the unjust actions of the past 60 years will give way to a policy encouraging full rights for all nations, especially the oppressed nations of Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan." Israel celebrated its 60th anniversary as a state this year.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a contender for prime minister in her country's elections, warned the incoming Obama administration against talks with Iran. "Dialogue at this time is liable to broadcast weakness," Livni cautioned.

The Iranian government's reaction to Obama's victory is intended to show interest in direct negotiations, said Mohammad Marandi, head of the Institute for North American and European Studies in Tehran.

Iran expects Obama to take some visible steps to decrease the tension between Iran and the United States, Marandi said. "He should work to develop a favorable atmosphere and recognize Iran's sovereignty and grievances," he said.

Iran's chief prosecutor, Ayatollah Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi, gave a speech Thursday calling upon Obama to lift sanctions against Iran, the semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported.

"Obama can dismantle all of the oppressive sanctions of the previous government against Iran and show his goodwill to the Iranian people," Dori-Najafabadi said. The U.N. Security Council has implemented three rounds of sanctions aimed at pressuring Iran to suspend the enrichment program.

In 2006, Ahmadinejad wrote an 18-page letter to President Bush that discussed religious values, history and international relations. Iran's leaders viewed the letter as a serious approach to the United States, but there was no response.

In a separate development, Iran's judiciary issued an order Thursday closing the weekly magazine Sharvand-e Emrooz, which is critical of Ahmadinejad's government, for writing about political subjects. The judiciary said politics was beyond the magazine's accreditation.

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