- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2009

TEHRAN | Iran‘s president said Tuesday the world was “entering an era of dialogue” and that his country would welcome talks with its longtime adversary, the United States, if they are based on mutual respect.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s announcement during a rally celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution comes a day after President Obama said his administration was looking for opportunities to engage Iran, and two days after former reformist President Mohammed Khatami announced he would challenge Mr. Ahmadinejad in the June presidential election.

“The Iranian nation is ready for talks [with the U.S.], but in a fair atmosphere with mutual respect,” Mr. Ahmadinejad told hundreds of thousands of Iranians at the rally, which marked the 1979 toppling of the U.S.-backed shah that brought hard-line clerics to power.

The Iranian leader said terrorism, the elimination of nuclear weapons, restructuring the U.N. Security Council and fighting drug trafficking could be topics for the two sides to talk about.

Mr. Ahmadinejad said the world was at a “crossroads” because it had been proven that military power has not been successful - a reference to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But now, he said, “the world is entering an era of dialogue and intellect.”

“The new U.S. government has announced that it wants to bring changes and follow the path of dialogue. It is very clear that changes have to be fundamental and not tactical. It is clear that the Iranian nation welcomes true changes,” Mr. Ahmadinejad told the throng at the rally in Freedom Square.

State television showed similar rallies in cities across Iran, saying “millions of people” turned out for the celebrations.

At one such rally, a crowd carrying sticks tried to attack Mr. Khatami, shouting “Death to Khatami. We do not want American government,” Agence France-Presse reported, citing the Web site of Mr. Khatami’s Baran Foundation. A close aide to Mr. Khatami, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, confirmed the incident.

Tehran and Washington severed relations nearly three decades ago after the 1979 Iranian revolution and the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by hard-line Iranian students.

Since his campaign for president, Mr. Obama has signaled a willingness for a dialogue with Iran.

On Monday, Mr. Obama said his national security team was reviewing its existing Iran policy and “looking at areas where we can have constructive dialogue.” He said he expected that his administration would be looking for “openings” where Washington and Tehran can sit face-to-face.

Mr. Ahmadinejad sent Mr. Obama a message of congratulations after he was elected - the first time an Iranian leader offered such wishes to the winner of a U.S. presidential race since the two countries broke off relations.

In his speech, Mr. Ahmadinejad declared Iran a “superpower” and said threats against it had disappeared. He didn’t elaborate but apparently meant that the U.S. should treat Iran as an equal.

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