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Iranian Official Downplays Obama's Overture to Iran


Iran's parliament speaker says U.S. President Barack Obama's recent overture is not enough to repair 30 years of strained relations between Iran and the United States.

Ali Larijani said Wednesday that the dispute between the two countries is not an emotional issue that can be resolved by "sending congratulations."

He says the United States has always opposed Iran, especially during former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's war with Iran during the 1980's. Larijani made the comments while visiting the Iraqi city of Najaf.

In a videotaped message, marking the start of the Persian new year holiday of Norwuz, last week, President Obama said he is committed to diplomacy to address what he called "serious differences" between the United States and Iran.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismissed Mr. Obama's remarks and said he sees no real change in U.S. policy toward Iran. But he said if the United States changes, Iran also will change its behavior.

During a news conference on Tuesday, President Obama said he expects steady progress in resolving problems with Iran, but that he does not expect change overnight.

The United Nations' chief nuclear inspector praised Mr. Obama's offer of diplomacy with Iran, calling it "very important."

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said Tuesday he believes Mr. Obama was offering "direct negotiations without preconditions." Speaking Tuesday during a visit to Ecuador, the nuclear director said he hoped Iran would also "extend a hand" to Washington.

The U.S. and Iran are entangled in a dispute over Iran's nuclear program, which the United States contends is a cover for developing weapons. Iran says the program is intended to produce electricity.

The United States has also invited Iran to take part in a conference on Afghanistan in the Netherlands next week. On Wednesday, Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said Iran has accepted the invitation.

U.S. Senator Ben Nelson is urging U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ask Iranian officials about the case of an American during the conference. Robert Levinson disappeared during a business trip to Iran in March of 2007.

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