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ARAB US RELATIONS - Mar 21 - Obama Offers Iran 'New Beginning'.

In a significant departure from the tone of the Bush administration, President Barack Obama welcomes "new beginning" with Iran in a surprise video message marking Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. Obama told Iran's people that the US wanted to engage with their country and end decades of strained relationship - if their leaders stopped making threats. In his extraordinary three-minute videotaped message, with Farsi subtitles, Obama congratulated Iranians on the beginning of the Persian calendar year 1388. The New Year is celebrated throughout Iran with the pre-Islamic festivities called Nowruz, a two-week holiday that marks the beginning of spring and during which most government offices and businesses are shuttered. He praised Iran's history and civilization but noted that relations between Iran and the US have been "strained" for nearly 30 years. He voiced a commitment to dialogue as a way of resolving the "differences that have grown" over the years. Obama said Iran could "take its rightful place in the community of nations" without "terror or arms", a reference to Tehran's alleged support for groups opposed to Israel and accusations that it is using a nuclear energy program as a cover for building an atomic weapons capability. "My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community", he said. "This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect", he said in the video, which is posted at: www.WhiteHouse.gov. The Nowruz message is the latest step in the Obama administration's "eyes-wide-open approach to Iran", involving "small diplomatic steps" to encourage Iran to cease its nuclear program. "In almost every aspect, Obama's approach is the opposite of that of President George Bush", said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council. "(Obama) referred to the 'Islamic Republic of Iran,' the formal name of Iran after the 1979 revolution, indicating his acceptance of the revolution and the reality of the current government ... Perhaps most importantly, Obama signaled America's strategic intent to achieve constructive ties between the United States and Iran. This is essential as he declared that the American endgame is to have a positive relationship with Iran and that he intends to put the destructive enmity of the past three decades behind them". "We welcome the wish of the president of the United States to put away past differences", Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad's press adviser Ali Akbar Javanfekr told AFP in reaction to Obama's message. Obama's landmark call drew international praise, with world leaders hoping Tehran will react positively to Washington's olive branch. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana voiced hope that Obama's message would mark the start of a "new chapter" in relations between Washington and Tehran. "I think it is a very constructive message", Solana said in Brussels. "I hope very much that the Iranians will pay good attention to what has been said by President Obama, I hope very much that Tehran will act intelligently". French President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters after a European Union summit in Brussels that Obama's speech was "good news". Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini praised Obama, saying he "has shown great leadership". "It is a big change ... in the direction hoped for by Italy", Frattini told reporters, adding the ball was now back in the Iranian court.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Mar 21, 2009
Words:566
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