Iran's Leader Says He Plans To Avoid Prejudging Obama

"We will wait and see what his administration will do," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said of President-elect Barack Obama. But he offered some advice, saying the United States "should limit its influence to its own borders."
"We will wait and see what his administration will do," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said of President-elect Barack Obama. But he offered some advice, saying the United States "should limit its influence to its own borders." (By Vahid Salemi -- Associated Press)

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By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, January 16, 2009

TEHRAN, Jan. 15 -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad struck a milder-than-usual tone toward the United States in remarks Thursday, saying he did not want to "judge ahead of time" the policies of President-elect Barack Obama.

"We will wait and see what his administration will do," Ahmadinejad said during a news conference in Tehran.

But the Iranian president repeated his sweeping demand that the United States change its behavior in order to decrease tension between the two nations. "Any government that comes to power in the United States should limit its influence to its own borders. The root of all problems and wars in the world is the unwanted meddling of the United States in world affairs," Ahmadinejad said. He also called for an American change in attitude toward Iran but did not elaborate.

During her Senate confirmation hearing in Washington on Tuesday, Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton said she planned to move swiftly to engage Iran and Syria directly, underscoring the new administration's intent to shift U.S. policy in the Middle East.

On Thursday, Ahmadinejad also sharply criticized Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip. "The defeat and desperation of this regime has become clear for all," he said, referring to Israel. "It has become obvious, even for the supporters of the Zionist regime, that the continued existence of this regime in the region is not possible."

Ahmadinejad has often spoken harshly about Israel. In October 2005, during a conference on the "world without Zionism," the president was reported to have said that "Israel must be wiped off the map," a reference to a statement made by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led Iran's 1979 revolution.

In January 2006, Ahmadinejad said his words had been "exaggerated and misinterpreted."

Ahmadinejad also criticized Arab nations for not cutting ties with Israel during its assault on the Hamas movement in Gaza, but he went out of his way not to condemn any leaders of those countries.

He said he had sent a letter to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally. "I explained to him the situation in Gaza -- which he surely knows -- and asked him to choose sides. We must be very careful to avoid divisions," the president said, saying that "imperialists wanted to divide and conquer the region."

He said an oil embargo against countries that support Israel "is a good proposal if Arab countries cooperate."

Ahmadinejad said he had no information about an Iranian student group that has put a bounty of $1.5 million on the head of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has drawn criticism in his own country and throughout the region for failing to open Egypt's land border with Gaza. "They must be very rich," Ahmadinejad said of the students.


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