IRAN READY TO WELCOME CHANGE IN RELATIONS WITH UNITED STATES

Iran’s hardline president appeared to hint at a softening of relations towards the US today, claiming he was “ready for dialogue” if President Obama changed American policy.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – internationally isolated because of his country’s nuclear ambitions, sponsorship of Hezbollah and Hamas and threats towards Israel – made his statements at a speech marking the Islamic revolution’s 30th anniversary.

“It is clear that the change [by Obama] must be fundamental and not tactical,” the Iranian leader said. “The Iranian nation will welcome true changes and is ready for dialogue in a climate of equality and mutual respect.”

However Mr Ahmadinejad cloaked his new rhetoric with threats to respond if the Obama Administration follows the policies of his predecessor.

“The world does not want the dark era of (former President Bush) to be repeated,” he said. “If some people seek to repeat that experience… they should know they will face a much worse fate than that of Bush.”

During his period in office, President Bush famously described Iran as part of an “axis of evil” along with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and North Korea, while Iranian leaders frequently refer to the United States as the “Great Satan.”

The Iranian President’s comments come a day after Mr Obama reiterated his desire for a changed US policy.

“I think there’s the possibility, at least, of a relationship of mutual respect and progress,” he said. However, the US President repeated his demand for a change in direction from the Iranian regime, saying: “It’s time now for Iran to send some signals that it wants to act differently.”

Ties between the United States and Iran were severed in the wake of the 1979 revolution, when Islamist students held 52 American diplomats hostage at the US embassy in Tehran for 444 days after deposing the American-backed Shah.

They nosedived dramatically over the last decade, as Iran presses ahead with a nuclear programme which the West suspects is aimed at building an atomic bomb. Tehran, which says the programme is designed for energy purposes, has been slapped with a series of UN sanctions over its refusal to suspend its work.

Ultimately, Iran’s policy towards the US will not be decided by the president but by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all matters of state under Iran’s system of clerical rule. Mr Khamenei said in January that Washington could not be trusted, but has kept silent on Mr Obama’s overtures.

In his first televised interview, Mr Obama said America was prepared to extend a hand of peace to Iran if it “unclenched its fist”.

Following those comments, Mr Ahmadinejad set tough conditions for any breakthrough, demanding that Washington withdraws its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and that it apologises for what he said were decades of US “crimes” against Iran.

Utilising tough rhetoric designed to vindicate the legacy of the revolution, the Iranian President also used his speech today to declare that the end of Mr Bush’s leadership represented a victory for his country.

“The threats against the Iranian people have been now removed with their resistance and help of God,” President Ahmadinejad said. “I officially announce that Iran today is a real and true super power.”

Amid a day of celebrations to mark the revolution which deposed the Shah, Iran showcased a replica of its domestically-built satellite, Omid (Hope), which it launched on February 2.

See Related: WORLD POLITICS

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