- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

TEHRAN, IRAN (AP) - Iran played down President Barack Obama’s new video message to the Iranian people on Friday, saying it welcomed the overtures but warned that decades of mistrust can’t easily be erased.

Obama released the video to coincide with the major Iranian festival of Nowruz, a 12-day holiday that marks the arrival of spring and the beginning of the new year in Iran. In the video, which has Farsi subtitles, Obama said the U.S. is prepared to end the strained relations if Tehran tones down its combative rhetoric.

But in the first government reaction to the video, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s press adviser said “minor changes will not end the differences” between Tehran and Washington.

“Obama has talked of change but has taken no practical measures to address America’s past mistakes in Iran. If Mr. Obama takes concrete actions and makes fundamental changes in U.S. foreign policy toward other nations including Iran, the Iranian government and people will not turn their back on him,” Ali Akbar Javanfekr told the Iranian state-run English-language Press TV satellite station.

It wasn’t clear how many Iranians were able to see the video, which was not aired on state television in Iran on Friday. It was likely shown on Farsi-language TV stations beamed in from outside of the country, but many Iranians don’t watch television in the first days of long Nowruz holiday that is normally filled with family gatherings or vacations away from home.

Iranians could see the video on the White House Web site, but other popular video sharing sites like YouTube are blocked in Iran.

Israel’s President Shimon Peres also issued a similar message to the people of Iran on Friday. In a rare audio message broadcast on the Voice of Israel’s Farsi-language radio station, Peres praised Iranians for their ancient culture but also said they would be better off without their hard-line leadership.

“I think the Iranian nation with topple these leaders _ leaders that do not serve the people. In the end, people will understand this,” The station claims it reaches millions of listeners in Iran, but it was unclear how many Iranians heard the message Friday.

Obama has repeatedly signaled a willingness to engage with Iran about its nuclear program and hostility toward Israel, a key U.S. ally. At his inauguration, the president said his administration would reach out to rival states, declaring “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

But Iranian leaders have been not been as eager. Ahmadinejad has said Iran would welcome talks with the U.S. _ but only if there was mutual respect. Iranian officials say that means the U.S. needs to stop accusing Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons and supporting terrorism, charges Tehran has denied.

Iran and the United States broke off diplomatic relations after the 1979 Islamic revolution and the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by hard-line students.

On Friday, Javanfekr blamed the United States’ “hostile policy toward Iran” for the tense ties between the two countries. He said Iranian’s “will never forget” Washington’s past actions including the U.S.-backed coup that toppled the elected government of Prime Minister Mohamed Mossadegh in 1953, its backing of Saddam Hussein during Iraq’s war with Iran in the 1980s and the downing of an Iranian airliner in 1988 by a U.S. naval ship.

But in Europe, the EU’s policy chief urged Iranian officials to accept Obama’s oustretched hand.

“It’s a very constructive message,” Javier Solana said at an EU summit in Brussels. “I hope that will open a new chapter in relations with Tehran.”


Associated Press writer Josef Federman contributed to this report from Jerusalem.


On the Net:

Obama video: https://www.whitehouse.gov/Nowruz

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