Iran's Supreme Leader Dismisses Obama's Appeal

Iran's supreme leader is dismissing calls from U.S. President Barack Obama for a "new beginning" in relations between the two countries.

Speaking in the holy city of Mashhad Saturday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the United States is using "the slogan of change," but that he sees no real change in U.S. policy toward Iran.

Change in rhetoric alone is not enough, he said, and even then we haven't seen much change in vocabulary. Change, he insists, must be authentic.

"We must tell the American leadership that the change [Obama] is talking about is a must," he said. "There is no choice, you must change, because God's divine conduct will change you. The world will change you."

In a videotaped message to the Iranian people, Mr. Obama said Friday he is committed to diplomacy to address "serious differences" between the United States and Iran.

Khamenei asked Mr. Obama if what he called America's "hostility" towards the Iranian nation has really changed.

"Has your hostility towards the Iranian nation changed? Is there some sign of this? Have you unblocked Iran's assets [frozen in US banks]? Have you lifted the oppressive sanctions? Have you stopped insulting us and making accusations against our great nation and its leaders? Have you stopped your unconditional support for Israel? So what, he asks, has changed? They use the slogan of change, but we have seen no change," said Khamenei.

Ali Nourizadeh, who runs the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London, says he is pessimistic about any real improvement in ties between the United States and Iran.

"Even if President Obama, tomorrow, returns what remains of the Iranian assets, if President Obama condemns Israel, if President Obama withdraws all American forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, and if the United States announced that they recognize Iran as the most powerful player in the Middle East, Mr. Khamenei will bring some more excuses to prevent the resumption of talks and relations between the two countries, because "death to America" is something which extends the regime's life," Nourizadeh said.

The U.S. and Iran are entangled in a dispute over the Persian Gulf nation's nuclear program, which the United States contends is a cover for developing weapons. Iran denies that the program has military aims, saying it is trying to produce electricity.

Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born Middle East analyst in Tel Aviv says that he thinks the United States will have to make substantial concessions before the Iranian leadership considers improving ties with Washington:

"I think if America can offer Iran something that has equal value or exceeds the value of Iran's nuclear program, then the Iranians might consider it. Maybe if Iran's role is recognized in Lebanon, in Afghanistan, in Iraq. Maybe, even then, I'm not sure. I think they will want any future military intervention in the Middle East, they will want to be consulted; any peace agreement in the region, they will want to be consulted, and they will want [a] free hand in supporting Hamas and Hezbollah," said Javedanfar.

Both analysts, however, believe that Mr. Obama has created significant goodwill with the Iranian people by addressing them directly. Ayatollah Khamenei, argues Javedanfar, has reason to be worried:

What concerns Khamenei, he says, is that Mr. Obama has credibility. What Mr. Obama did yesterday has endeared him, I believe, to the hearts of many Iranians. It's going to be very difficult for Khamenei to ignore Mr. Obama.
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