- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2008

TEHRAN | Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday congratulated Barack Obama on his election win - the first time an Iranian leader has offered such wishes to a U.S. president-elect since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

An analyst said the statement was a gesture from the hard-line president that he is open to some sort of reconciliation with the U.S.

Mr. Obama has said he is willing to conduct direct diplomacy with Iranian leaders as a way to break the impasse between the two countries or give the U.S. more credibility to press for tougher sanctions if talks fail. His policy marks a departure from the Bush administration, which has refused high-level engagements with Iran.

In his comments, Mr. Ahmadinejad congratulated the Democrat on “attracting the majority of voters in the election.” The text of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statement was carried by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

Mr. Ahmadinejad also said he hopes Mr. Obama will “use the opportunity to serve the [American] people and leave a good name for history” during his term in office.

Iran and U.S. have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1979, when militant Iranian students held 52 Americans captive 444 days.

Current U.S.-Iranian relations remain tense, with Washington accusing Tehran of trying to develop nuclear weapons and of providing support for Shi’ite militants who are killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq - charges Iran denies.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a contender for prime minister in her country’s elections, warned against any dialogue with Iran - a first sign of Israeli disagreement with the incoming U.S. administration.

“Dialogue at this time is liable to broadcast weakness,” cautioned Mrs. Livni, who is head of the governing Kadima party. Israeli officials describe Iran as the biggest threat to the Jewish state’s existence, citing Mr. Ahmadinejad’s calls for Israel’s destruction.

Iran sees Mr. Obama’s victory as a triumph over the unpopular policies of President Bush, who repeatedly clashed with Iranian leaders over Iran’s nuclear program and its opposition to the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mr. Ahmadinejad went on in his Thursday message to say that “nations of the world” expect changes from Mr. Obama - mostly that he will change current U.S. foreign policy.

That policy, Mr. Ahmadinejad said, was “based on warmongering, occupation, bullying, deception and humiliation, as well as discrimination and unfair relations” and has led to “hatred of all nations and majority of governments toward the U.S. leaders.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad also said Mr. Obama is expected to replace such a policy with “an approach based on justice and respect, as well as lack of intervention in the affairs of others.”

Iran’s government refused to publicly side with any of the U.S. candidates throughout the presidential race, although parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said last month that Mr. Obama seemed “more rational” than Sen. John McCain.

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