Ahmadinejad Says Iran Is Ready for Talks with United States

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaks during a ceremony at celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and brought hard-line clerics to power, in Tehran on Tuesday Feb, 10, 2009. Iran welcomed talks with the new administration of U.S. President Barack Obama on the basis of mutual respect, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said. Photo of Iran's late leader Ayatollah Khomeini, and Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are seen in background.(AP photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaks during a ceremony at celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and brought hard-line clerics to power, in Tehran on Tuesday Feb, 10, 2009. Iran welcomed talks with the new administration of U.S. President Barack Obama on the basis of mutual respect, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said. Photo of Iran's late leader Ayatollah Khomeini, and Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are seen in background.(AP photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian) (Hasan Sarbakhshian - AP)
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By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, February 11, 2009

TEHRAN, Feb. 10 -- Iran is ready for dialogue with the United States, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday, directly addressing the U.S. administration in his most measured remarks to America since President Obama took office.

"The new U.S. government has announced that it wants to create change and follow the path of talks. It's very clear that true changes should be fundamental and not tactical," Ahmadinejad said during a massive rally in Tehran to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed shah of Iran.

"These talks should be held in a fair atmosphere in which there is mutual respect," he added.

Obama said in his first White House news conference Monday that he saw the possibility of "direct engagement" with Iran in the months ahead, marking a break with his predecessor George W. Bush, who strived to isolate Iran internationally and declared it part of an "axis of evil."

"We will be looking for openings that can be created where we can start sitting across the table, face-to-face diplomatic overtures, that will allow us to move our policy in a new direction," Obama said. He also warned the United States would not tolerate Iran's "funding of terrorist organizations or its pursuit of a nuclear weapon."

"Now it's time for Iran to send some signals that it wants to act differently," Obama said.

Ahmadinejad's overtures are made under tight supervision by Iran's other leaders, analysts say. "When he speaks, he does so with the approval of the Supreme National Security Council," a group that includes representatives of the country's religious, military and other power centers, said Mohammad Marandi, head of the North American studies department at the University of Tehran.

"They will decide if Iran will really deal with the United States," Marandi said. "It's the United States that should send signals first. They need Iran more than we need them," he added. "Iran can help the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan. Pakistan is unraveling, Iran also wants security and stability in those nations. The fact that they now work separately makes it impossible to get things done."

In March 2006, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, decided that talking to America about Iraq was not taboo, marking a historic shift in Iran's foreign policy towards the United States.

Ahmadinejad wrote several unanswered letters to former President George W. Bush and congratulated Obama on his election victory. Many Iranian officials remain suspicious of renewed relations between the nations.

"If pro-American tendencies come to power in Iran we have to say goodbye to everything. After all, anti-Americanism is among the main features of our Islamic state," said Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the Guardian Council, an appointed assembly of 12 clerics and jurists who have the power to vet laws and election candidates, in remarks 10 days ago.

The United States severed relations with Iran after Islamic revolutionary students in 1979 seized 52 people at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held them hostage for 444 days.

Ahmadinejad spoke Tuesday in front of a huge crowd gathered around the capital's central Azadi Square. Balloons with inflatable antennae hovered overhead, symbolizing Iran's reportedly successful launch of a satellite last week.

A girl with red tulips painted on her cheeks, Iran's symbol for those who died during the revolution and the Iran-Iraq war, held her mother's hand as groups of young men in army fatigues shouted "Down with America."

"Relations with the United States are fine, as long as our supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei agrees with it," said Fatemeh Bahrami, who had come with her sister Roghayeh. They had lost their husbands in the crowds and were waiting for them.

"Today we punch the mouths of the U.S. and Israel," Roghayeh said. "But if the leader agrees, we can talk to America."


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