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Obama hints at new US approach towards Iran

world Updated: Feb 10, 2009 09:43 IST

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Indicating a new US approach towards Iran, President Barack Obama on Tuesday said he will be looking for "openings" in coming months that could lead to "face-to-face" talks with Tehran. "I think that there's the possibility, at least, of a relationship of mutual respect and progress," Obama said at his maiden press conference after assuming office on January 20.

"Now it's time for Iran to send some signals that it wants to act differently, as well, and recognize that, even as it has some rights as a member of the international community, with those rights come responsibilities," Obama said.

The West suspects Iran of secretly trying to build an atomic bomb and fears the technology used to launch a space rocket could be diverted to developing long-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Obama pledged during the 2008 White House race to break with what he described as his predecessor George W Bush's unproductive and confrontational policy towards iran, and ordered a review of relations shortly after taking office.

Obama said his national security team is currently reviewing the existing Iran policy, looking at areas where the US can have constructive dialogue and where his administration can directly engage with them.

"My expectation is, in the coming months, 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," he said.

The US President said over the years there's been a lot of mistrust built up over the years. "So it's not going to happen overnight". "It's important that, even as we engage in this direct diplomacy, we are very clear about certain deep concerns that we have as a country, that Iran understands that we find the funding of terrorist organizations unacceptable, that we're clear about the fact that a nuclear Iran could set off a nuclear arms race in the region that would be profoundly destabilizing," he said.

"So there are going to be a set of objectives that we have in these conversations, but I think that there's the possibility at least of a relationship of mutual respect and progress," he said.

Iran denies that it is pursuing a covert weapons programme and insists its accelerated nuclear development process is aimed at producing electrical power.

Referring to his speeches during campaign, Obama said Iran is a country that has extraordinary people, history and traditions, but that its actions over many years now have been unhelpful when it comes to promoting peace and prosperity both in the region and around the world.