Iran's Ahmadinejad wants change in US policies, not 'tactics'

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ahmadinejad said he would welcome change from the US, but only a "fundamental and effective change."
Image: Daniella Zalcman.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on the United States to substantially change its foreign policy toward Iran in an address aimed at the new Barack Obama administration.

In addition to urging a new direction in foreign policy, Ahmadinejad demanded that the US apologize for the "crimes they have committed against the Iranian nation" over the past 60 years. Ahmadinejad says these "dark crimes" include the economic sanctions imposed since the country's 1979 revolution, attempts to halt Iran's nuclear program, and America's support of Israel.

"Those who speak of change must apologize to the Iranian people and try to repair their past bad acts and the crimes they committed against Iran," the president said in the city of Kermanshah. The remarks were Ahmadinejad's first address to the US since Obama took office on January 20, though he did congratulate Obama after his election in November.

Ahmadinejad singled out the George W. Bush administration for its support of Israel and its expansion of US military presence around the world. He called for an end to "interfering in other people's affairs", which meant a withdrawal of all US troops. "If someone wants to talk with us in the language that Bush used," he said, "even if he uses new words, our response will be the same that we gave to Bush during the past years".

Though the Iranian president did not mention Obama by name, he did have a lot to say about his predecessor. "Mr. Bush has gone into the trash can of history with a very black and shameful file full of treachery and killings," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying. "He left and, God willing, he will go to hell."

The remarks came a day after President Obama made a much-publicized appearance on Al Arabiya, an Arabic news channel. During the interview, Obama repeated a theme from his inauguration speech, saying "if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us". Diplomacy will be a very important tool in US relations with Iran, he clarified.

It is not clear if Ahmadinejad's speech was meant as a response to Obama's interview, but some of his remarks seemed to echo Obama's campaign theme of "change". Ahmadinejad said there are two types of change he could expect from Washington. "First is a fundamental and effective change," he said. "The second ... is a change of tactics." He said Iran would welcome change from the US, but only if it were "truly serious and basic".

If someone wants to talk with us in the language that Bush used, even if he uses new words, our response will be the same that we gave to Bush during the past years.

—Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Ahmadinejad offered his own definition of change. "Change means giving up support for the rootless, uncivilized, fabricated, murdering... Zionists and let the Palestinian nation decide its own destiny," he was quoted as saying. "Change means putting an end to U.S. military presence in the world." He said Iran will be "waiting patiently" and carefully studying the new administration's actions to see if such change takes place.

Do you think that President Obama's is engaging Iran diplomatically? What do you think of President Ahmadinejad's response?

Obama campaigned on a promise to introduce diplomacy into US-Iranian relations, but it remains to be seen if either side will be willing to engage in diplomacy. Other US officials seemed to reflect a more conciliatory tone towards Iran than the previous administration. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that Iran has a "clear opportunity" to engage with the international community.

US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice pledged "direct" support to Iran only if it halts its controversial nuclear program, which Iran insists is for peaceful energy purposes.

Even if Ahmadinejad is willing to talk with the US, any decision on foreign relations will require the approval of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, who said in October that hatred of America runs deep in Iran. However, opposition politician Ebrahim Yazdi is somewhat optimistic regarding the prospect of diplomacy, believing better ties with the US are in Iran's economic and political interest. "The political atmosphere in Iran is now ripe, is suitable for direct negotiation with the United States," he said.

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