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US has new steps planned on Iran: White House.

Summary: The United States has a set of next steps planned to encourage dialogue with Tehran after the release of President Barack Obama's video message to Iran's leaders and people, the White House

The United States has a set of next steps planned to encourage dialogue with Tehran after the release of President Barack Obama's video message to Iran's leaders and people, the White House said Friday.

Obama earlier offered "new beginnings" to Iran in his first videotaped message addressed "directly" to Tehran in time for its new year festival of Nowruz.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was asked whether it was hoped the message released earlier would be the start of an ongoing dialogue with Iran, which Obama has pledged to engage despite decades of U.S.-Iranian animosity.

"Without getting into what next, obviously there will need to be some evaluation over all with our policies," Gibbs told reporters.

Prodded as to whether a "step two" had already been gamed out on paper, Gibbs added: "there is, and there are many more, but none of which I am going to get into today. Speaking directly to the Iranians

On the occasion of Nowruz, or new day, which marks the beginning of a traditional Iranian new year celebrated on March 21, Obama said he wanted to speak "In particularC*directly to the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

"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," Obama added.

Reversing a long-held U.S. policy that never ruled out military action against Iran, Obama said his administration's approach to Tehran "will not be advanced by threats."

"We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect," he said.

Obama's address came one week after he extended U.S. economic sanctions over Iran citing the Islamic state posed an"unusual and extraordinary threat to U.S. national security."

Iranian reaction

In separate New Year messages to their nation, neither Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei nor President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad mentioned Obama's offer. Khamenei said world powers had been persuaded they could not block Iran's nuclear progress.

But Ali Akbar Javanfekr, aide to Ahmadinejad, told Reuters: "The Iranian nation has shown that it can forget hasty behavior but we are awaiting practical steps by the United States.

"The Obama administration so far has just talked," he added, calling for "fundamental changes in his policy towards Iran".

Javanfekr said Iran welcomed "the interest of the American government to settle differences". But he said the United States "should realize its previous mistakes and make an effort to amend them".

Mohammad Hassan Khani, assistant professor of international relations at Tehran's Imam Sadiq University, described it as a positive gesture but noted it came only a week after the extension of U.S. economic sanctions.

"This is somehow conflicting and making people here confused," he said.

Saeed Laylaz, editor of the Sarmayeh business daily, said Obama's move was significant but "it is not enough. They should have taken more brave steps towards better ties with Iran", such as easing the sanctions.

World reaction

French President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters after a European Union summit in Brussels that Obama's speech was "good news."

"We have been waiting for years for the Americans to re-engage in the Iranian issue," he said.

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 which have had no diplomatic ties since 1980.

"I think it is a very constructive message," Solana said in Brussels.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini praised Obama, saying he "has shown great leadership."

In Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said: "We welcome it."

"The start of substantive dialogue will facilitate the revival of trust in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program," Ryabkov told journalists.

Iran's responsibility

Obama said in his address that the U.S. wanted Iran to take its "rightful place in the community of nations," but also insisted that Tehran does its part to achieve reconciliation.

"You have that right--but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization," Obama said.

"The measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create," he added, alluding to Iran's contested nuclear program and its missile development efforts.

To stress the seriousness of Obama's overture, the White House distributed the videotape with Farsi subtitles and posted it on its website to coincide with Iranian observance of the ancient festival of Nowruz, celebrating the arrival of spring.

Obama's willingness to talk to Iran was welcomed internationally as a departure from what many saw as Bush's go-it-alone "cowboy diplomacy" epitomized by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Offers

Though Obama stopped short of specific offers, he said he was seeking "a future with renewed exchanges among our people and greater opportunities for partnership and commerce."

But he acknowledged that "this won't be reached easily" as both countries remain at loggerheads over Iran's alleged nuclear program, which Washington says is aimed at building atomic weapons, while Tehran insists is for the peaceful generation of electricity.

Obama has also insisted that Iran ends its support of groups the United States considers terrorist organizations and ceases "bellicose language" toward U.S. ally Israel.

The United States cut off diplomatic ties with Iran during the 1979-1981 hostage crisis, in which a group of militant Iranian students held 52 U.S. diplomats hostage at the American Embassy for 444 days.

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Publication:Al Arabiya (Saudi Arabia)
Date:Mar 19, 2009
Words:971
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