Ahmadinejad welcomes Obama change

Friday, November 07, 2008

(CNN) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad congratulated U.S. President-elect Barack Obama -- the first time an Iranian leader has offered such wishes to a U.S. president-elect since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Ahmadinejad on Thursday outlined where he thinks U.S. policy needs to change.

One analyst said the welcome was a gesture from the hard-line president that he is open to a more conciliatory relationship with the U.S.

Ahmadinejad said Tehran "welcomes basic and fair changes in U.S. policies and conducts," according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency on Thursday.

Relations between the United States and Iran have historically been chilly, and have been further strained in recent years over Iran's nuclear program.

Tehran insists the program exists for peaceful purposes, but the United States and other Western nations are concerned by Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment activities.

"I hope you will prefer real public interests and justice to the never-ending demands of a selfish minority and seize the opportunity to serve people so that you will be remembered with high esteem," Ahmadinejad told Obama in his statement, IRNA said.

"The Americans who have spiritual tendencies expect the government to spend all its power in line with serving the people, rectify the critical situation facing the U.S., restore lost reputation as well as their hope and spirit, fully respect human rights and strengthen family foundations.

"Other nations also expect war-oriented policies, occupation, bullying, contempt of nations and imposing discriminatory policies on them to be replaced by the ones advocating justice, respect for human rights, friendship and non-interference in other countries' internal affairs," Ahmadinejad said.

"They also want U.S. intervention to be limited to its borders, especially in the Middle East. It is highly expected to reverse the unfair attitude toward restoring the rights of the Palestinians, Iraqis and Afghans. The great nation of Iran welcomes basic and fair changes in U.S. policies and conducts, especially in the region."

Saeed Leilaz, an independent analyst in Tehran, told The Associated Press that Ahmadinejad's message was a "positive step" that now leaves Washington with the responsibility for the next one.

Leilaz added he believes Obama's victory will "weaken radicalism" in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

On Wednesday, Iran's first official reaction to Obama's victory was cautious optimism, praising the end of what it termed "Bush's defeated policies."

It added that Obama "can play an important role in future relations between the U.S. and Asia and the Middle East."

CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour says that in the U.S., many former secretaries of state and other officials also believe in playing that role.

They say an Obama administration should explore the possibility of engaging with Iran and even restoring diplomatic relations as a way to help solve challenges such as Iran's nuclear program and its role in regional power politics in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East peace process.

Asked in a July debate whether he would meet leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea separately and without precondition during the first year of his administration, Obama said, "I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them -- which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration -- is ridiculous."

In September, Obama said: "Ahmadinejad is not the most powerful person in Iran. He may not be the right person to talk to. But I reserve the right, as president of the United States, to meet with anybody at a time and place of my choosing if I think it's going to keep America safe."

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