- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

President Obama early Friday congratulated Iranians on their new year and hinted that the United States might be willing to ease trade sanctions against Tehran if it behaves more responsibly in international affairs.

Mr. Obama´s comments, which were videotaped for broadcast to the Iranian people, contrasted with exhortations from the Bush administration for the Iranian people to rise up and overturn their Islamic government.

Instead, Mr. Obama made it plain that he was seeking a change in Iranian behavior, not a change in the regime.

“On the occasion of your new year, I want you, the people and leaders of Iran, to understand the future that we seek. It’s a future with renewed exchanges among our people, and greater opportunities for partnership and commerce,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s a future where the old divisions are overcome, where you and all of your neighbors and the wider world can live in greater security and greater peace.”

Click here to see the video.

In return, however, he said that Iran must assume “real responsibilities” and take actions “that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.”

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to comment further on U.S.-Iran ties, saying: “I think the video speaks for itself.”

The video message was timed to the traditional Persian festival of Nowruz, which is celebrated at the vernal equinox, which occurs March 20 this year, and marks the start of the new year.

The comments were made as the Obama administration nears the end of a policy review that will offer the Islamic republic better relations if it is willing to suspend its uranium-enrichment program and its support for militant Islamic groups.

A Western diplomat told The Washington Times on Thursday that U.S. officials are willing to ease economic sanctions against Iran if it changes its behavior.

The diplomat, who has been briefed on U.S. policy but asked not to be named because the policy review has not been completed, said U.S. officials estimate about a 10 percent chance that Iran will agree.

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