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Iran Warms to Obama Appeal for Better Relations

President Obama's videotaped message to the Iranian people calling for better relations between the US and Iran has ordinary Iranians talking, capturing center stage on the day Iranians celebrate as their time-honored new year.

Iranian government TV carried a traditional New Year's greeting from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad calling it the day of the "rebirth of love, friendship, and aspiration," but it was President Obama's message that captured many people's attention.

Mr. Ahmedinejad's press advisor Ali-Akbar Javanfekr noted that Iran "welcomes" President Obama's call for better relations, but tempered his remarks with criticism of past U.S. policies towards Iran, in addition to calling for "concrete" actions from Mr. Obama. 

"Mr. Obama has talked of change, but has taken no practical measures to redress America's past mistakes in Iran," he said. "If Mr. Obama takes a concrete action and makes fundamental changes to U.S. foreign policy towards other nations, including Iran, the Iranian government and people will not turn their back on him. Mr. Obama has referred to differences between Iran and the US. We believe that those differences stem from Washington's hostile policy towards Iran. Minor changes will not end the differences."

Younger Iranians who grew up after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, have always lived in an atmosphere of hostility towards the United States, which is often referred to in government discourse as the "Great Satan."

Nima Abasi, a businessman in Tehran, sounded encouraged by the prospect of improved ties with the United States, saying it would be a positive development.

"The best choice is if two people want to talk over something, if there are no middlemen and if they are friendly, then there will be respect from both sides. This could be very good," he said.

Reza Hedayat, a young man who was out shopping, was also encouraged by President Obama's message.

"If the Americans truly have honest intentions, we should have relations and be friends with everyone … Friendly and commercial ties will have more benefit for both Iran and America," he said.

Pirouz Mojtahed-zadeh, professor of geography at Tehran's Tarbiat Modarres University, told Iran's Press TV that he was optimistic relations with the United States would improve.

"We will have to understand Obama's position. He has started a change not only in respect to Iran, but in America's foreign policies, on the background of belligerent policies of the previous [US] government … This might sound, somehow, an optimistic view of the situation, but do we have other alternative but to be optimistic? And with our optimism we assist Obama to fulfill his promises," he said.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, speaking outside EU headquarters in Brussels, also expressed optimism over President Obama's overture towards Iran, amid an ongoing standoff over Tehran's nuclear activities.

"I'm very pleased after having heard the message. I think that it was a very constructive message. I think that, I hope very much, that Iranians will take good attention to what has been said by President Obama. I hope that that will open a new chapter in the relations with Tehran," he said.

President Obama's appeal to Iran goes further than remarks made during a January press conference, when he urged Tehran and other U.S. foes to "unclench their fists." The United States and Iran have a long history of tensions, which have been made worse in recent years by Western suspicions about Tehran's nuclear program and its support for militant Islamic groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

But despite the tensions, the Obama administration has expressed a growing willingness to work with Iran.  The United States recently invited Tehran to attend an international conference on Afghanistan, scheduled for March 31.
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