Iran's Supreme Leader Says Obama Address Offers No Real Change
March 21, 2009
TEHRAN -- Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said that U.S. President Barack Obama's offer of better ties was just a "slogan," but pledged that Tehran would respond to any real policy shift by Washington.
Speaking a day after Obama's videotaped overture, Khamenei, Iran's most powerful figure with final say on all matters of state, said he saw no real change yet from the United States.
But he added: "[If] you change, our behavior will change."
He sharply criticized U.S. actions toward Iran since its 1979 Islamic revolution, saying the United States was "hated in the world" and should stop interfering in other countries.
"They give the slogan of change but in practice no change is seen," Khamenei said in a televised speech to mark the Iranian New Year.
He was speaking in the northeastern city of Mashhad. During the speech at Iran's most prominent religious shrine, the crowd chanted: "Death to America. Death to America."
On March 20, Obama offered Iran a "new beginning" of diplomatic engagement between the two old foes.
Khamenei said a change of U.S. "words" was not enough. "We will watch and we will judge" the new U.S. administration, he said.
U.S.-Iranian relations have been almost deep-frozen for decades, and remain blighted by differences over Iran's nuclear program, Iraq, Israel, and other issues.
Change In Approach
In a major shift from the policies of his predecessor George W. Bush, who branded Iran part of an "axis of evil" and spearheaded a drive to isolate it, Obama has offered to extend a hand of peace to Tehran if it "unclenches its fist."
Khamenei made clear his view that more was needed from Washington if it wanted better ties with his country.
"Now the new American administration says: We would like to negotiate with Iran, let's forget the past," Khamenei told a big crowd of people that had gathered at the site in Mashhad.
"They say we have extended a hand towards Iran. What kind of hand is this? If the extended hand is covered with a velvet glove but underneath it, the hand is made of cast iron, this does not have a good meaning at all," he said.
In his warmest offer yet of a fresh start in relations with Iran, Obama said: "The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations."
In a video message released to mark the Iranian New Year, Obama said "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."
An aide to Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad cautiously welcomed the overture on March 20, but said Tehran was waiting for "practical steps," not talk.
The United States accuses Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear bomb under cover of a civilian atomic power program -- a charge Iran denies.
Ahmadinejad has demanded Washington apologize for decades of "crimes" against the Islamic Republic.
Tehran also says it cannot let down its guard as long as U.S. troops are posted on its borders in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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