Obama: Iranian people want a 'different direction'

Bradley Klapper (The Philippine Star) - June 18, 2013 - 12:08pm

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Monday that Iran's election of a relative moderate shows that the country's people want to change course. But he stressed that Tehran still needs to show the international community that it's not pursuing a nuclear weapon.

Obama said in an interview with PBS' Charlie Rose airing Monday night that the Iranian election of cleric Hasan Rowhani showed that "the Iranian people want to move in a different direction."

"The Iranian people rebuffed the hardliners and the clerics in the election who were counseling no compromise on anything anytime anywhere. Clearly you have a hunger within Iran to engage with the international community in a more positive way," Obama said.

Obama also cautioned that the election results did not mean the U.S. is prepared to talk to the Iranian government immediately. He said the U.S. remains open to new nuclear talks with Iran but the Middle Eastern nation needs to recognize that powerful economic sanctions will not be lifted unless Iran takes significant steps to make clear it's not pursuing a nuclear weapon.

"I think there is a possibility that they decide — the Iranians decide to take us up on our offer to engage in a more serious substantive way. And, you know, our bottom lines have been, show the international community that you're abiding by international treaties and obligations, that you're not developing a nuclear weapon," Obama said.

"Based on that, there are a whole range of measures that can be taken to try to normalize the relationship between Iran and the world, but we don't know yet if they're going to be willing to take up that offer," he said.

Rowhani said in his first post-victory news conference that he would pursue a "path of moderation" that includes greater openness on Tehran's nuclear program and overtures to Washington. But he echoed the country's ruling clerics' position that no breakthroughs can occur as long as Washington is seen as trying to undermine their hold on power. He also said Iran would not stop the uranium enrichment labs central to the stalemate between the West and its allies.

Despite the overtures of moderation, the Obama administration says it will not welcome Rowhani's election with any new nuclear offer.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday that the U.S. is open to new nuclear talks with Iran but Washington and its international partners first want a response to an offer of sanctions relief for Iranian nuclear concessions they presented in April.

"The ball is in Iran's court," Psaki said.

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