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Obama may help thaw icy U.S.-Iran ties - diplomat

world Updated: Feb 07, 2009 10:40 IST
Dmitry Solovyov

Iran has a chance to thaw ties with the United States during Barack Obama's presidency and the opportunity must not be missed, a senior Iranian diplomat said on Friday.

Obama has offered to talk directly with Tehran, a decision greeted enthusiastically this week by world powers involved in diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to rein in its nuclear programme.

Iran denies western accusations it is seeking nuclear weapons saying it only wants to produce electricity for its energy hungry economy.

Obama's predecessor, George W Bush, opposed direct talks with Tehran to resolve the standoff but Washington is now reviewing its Iran policy. The new administration is considering a range of options to get Iran to change its behaviour.

"Mr. Obama has repeatedly said he is ready to hold talks with Iran without any preliminary conditions. If so, we welcome his steps and we believe the world has indeed changed," Iranian Ambassador to Russia Mahmoud Reza Sajadi told a news conference.

"We are interested in building cooperation between us, and ...we hope previous misunderstandings will be dispelled between us," he added. "We see a hope-inspiring horizon in front of us and, naturally, we will use any opportunity (to improve ties)."

Iranian students took 52 Americans hostage at the U.S. embassy in Iran in November 1979 following the Islamic Revolution earlier in the year. Washington cut diplomatic ties with Tehran in April 1980 and the Swiss government has represented its interests since then.

The U.S. has long accused Iran of undermining peace in the Middle East by backing what Washington calls "terrorist groups" like Palestinian Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah. Tehran says the groups aim to free Palestinians from occupation by Israel, a state it does not recognise.

"One should not forget that the previous U.S. administration ignored both common sense and logic, and the policy of this administration was extremely aggressive not only towards Iran but also towards other countries," he said.

"We hope the new U.S. administration will lose this habit of looking down in a haughty manner not only on Iran but on other countries as well," Sajadi said. "Naturally, we do hope for an equal approach and equal attitude to Iran and other countries."

(Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Jon Boyle)