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
"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
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