Iran declares readiness for US talks

Iran gave a strong signal yesterday that it is prepared to start a mould-breaking dialogue with the United States in response to the dramatic call by Barack Obama for the Islamic Republic to "unclench its fist", guardian reported.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's hardline president, used the final rally of celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the 1979 revolution to declare a readiness for talks with the US "based on mutual respect and in a fair atmosphere".

Ahmadinejad told a crowd of hundreds of thousands in Tehran that change by Washington would have to be "fundamental and not tactical" - and attacked the former president George Bush, who included Iran in his notorious "axis of evil".

But the Iranian leader reinforced the impression that the Obama administration's emollient signals are being taken seriously - even if the prospects for change remain highly uncertain.

Overnight, Obama had predicted face-to-face discussions with Iran within months. "We will be looking for openings that can be created where we can start sitting across the table face-to-face with diplomatic overtures that will allow us to move our policy in the new direction," he said at his first press conference since taking office.

The timing and location of Ahmadinejad's remarks could hardly have been more symbolic, marking the events - the overthrow of the US-backed shah and the establishment of the Islamic Republic - which opened up a chasm of hostility between the two countries.

The US and Iran severed relations after the revolution, which was followed by the holding of 52 American diplomats as hostages for 444 days and by US backing for Saddam Hussein's Iraq during the eight-year war with Iran.

Underlining the continuing animosity, many in yesterday's crowd in Tehran's Azadi (Freedom) Square carried placards reading "Death to America" or burned US flags. Other slogans included "30 years of freedom, 30 years of pride" and "Death to Israel."

"The new US administration has announced that they want to produce change and pursue the course of dialogue," Ahmadinejad declared. "It is quite clear that real change must be fundamental and not tactical. It is clear the Iranian nation welcomes real changes."

Celebrations of the revolution's anniversary have been relatively lowkey, not least because approximately 70% of the Iranian population was born after 1979 or has no memory of the shah's rule. Iranian state TV has been broadcasting archive footage of the revolution every day since 31 January, the anniversary according to the Persian calendar, of Ayatollah Khomeini's return from exile.

But if disagreements persist over past relations between the US and Iran, dealing with present problems will be even more difficult, with the west locked in confrontation with Tehran over its nuclear programme, which the US claims is an attempt to develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists it is for peaceful purposes.

The US administration must also take internal Iranian developments into account, especially since Sunday's announcement by the reformist former president, Mohammad Khatami, that he will challenge Ahmadinejad in June's presidential elections. Reported attacks on Khatami by stick-wielding demonstrators yesterday were a reminder of how volatile that contest is likely to be.

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