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Iran cautiously welcomes overture by Obama

US President Barack Obama made his warmest offer yet of a fresh start in relations with Iran, which cautiously welcomed the overture but warned yesterday that decades of mistrust can't be erased easily.

"My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us and to pursuing constructive ties," Obama said in an unprecedented video message released to Middle East broadcasters to mark Iranian New Year.

"This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect," Obama said.

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 US 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 yesterday.

Ties have been nearly frozen for decades and remain blighted by differences over Iran's nuclear program, Iraq, Israel and other thorny issues.

In separate New Year messages to their nation, neither Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei nor President Ahmadinejad mentioned Obama's offer. Khamenei said world powers had been persuaded they could not block Iran's nuclear progress.

Aliakbar Javanfekr, aide to Ahmadinejad, said: "The Iranian nation has shown that it can forget hasty behavior, but we are awaiting practical steps by the United States."

"The Obama administration so far has just talked," he added, calling for "fundamental changes in his policy towards Iran."

The US has no diplomatic relations with Iran, which it accuses of backing militant groups and seeking to develop a nuclear bomb under cover of a civilian atomic power program - a charge Iran denies.

Javanfekr said Iran welcomed the interest of the US government to settle differences. But he said the US should realize its previous mistakes and make an effort to amend them.

Washington's sanctions against Tehran were wrong and need to be reviewed. Its backing for Israel, Iran's main enemy in the region, was "not a friendly gesture," he said.

The White House distributed the Obama video with Farsi subtitles and posted it on its Website.

Mohammad Hassan Khani, assistant professor of international relations at Tehran's Imam Sadiq University, described it as a positive gesture but noted it came only a week after the extension of US economic sanctions. "This is somehow conflicting and making people here confused," he said.


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