EU, Russia welcome Obama’s dialogue offer to Iran (Lead)

March 20th, 2009 - 10:23 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Washington, March 20 (DPA) The European Union (EU) and Russia welcomed US President Barack Obama’s offer to Iran Friday for a new start, with the US commitment to engagement, not threats, in its pursuit of diplomacy.
Obama, in a message to Iranians early Friday, said the effort could not be one-sided, suggesting the people of Iran also “have a choice” about whether they take their “rightful place in the community of nations”.

“That place cannot be reached through terror or arms but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilisation,” Obama said.

There was no immediate official reaction in Iran, where there was a public New Year holiday, to Obama’s offer made in remarks broadcast by the Voice of America’s (VOA) Persian news network, which is widely viewed by satellite in Iran.

Moscow said it saw no signs that Iran’s nuclear programme has a military purpose while Brussels described the US offer of direct talks with Tehran as “very good” and “very constructive”.

An Iranian presidential press advisor, who holds no official position, reacted coolly to the offer and just reiterated the stance of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the US should change its policies in practice before approaching Iran after three decades of diplomatic estrangement.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed, in a pre-recorded message released Friday, to continue the country’s nuclear work, saying: “The (nuclear) progress in Iran in the last (Persian) year has been significant and its continuation will bring the Iranian nation further international recognition and credit.”

Obama’s message reflected his promise of diplomacy and engagement with Iran made through his 2008 election campaign and marked a stark departure from his predecessor George W. Bush, who refused to deal with Iran’s leaders.

Obama did not mention uranium enrichment but noted that the US has “serious differences that have grown over time”.

Javier Solana, the EU’s top diplomat, who heads international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme, Friday said Obama’s offer was “very good”.

“I hope very much Iran will pay good attention to what has been said by President Obama. I hope this will open a new chapter in the relations with Tehran,” Solana told journalists in Brussels.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, reacting to Obama’s message said Russia still sees no sign that Iran’s nuclear programme has military purpose, and welcomed the steps taken by Obama’s administration to renew dialogue.

“It is very important to us that the new US administration is taking steps to meet Iran part-way in the political-diplomatic sphere. We consider this optimal,” he said.

As Russia nears completion of Iran’s first nuclear power plant at Bushehr, the US and many Western European countries have not dropped long-held suspicions that Tehran’s civilian nuclear programme serves as a cover for ambitions to build atomic weapons.

Iran’s nuclear programme is expected to be one of the top questions on the agenda when Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev hold talks on the sidelines of the G20 summit in London in April.

According to Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, 6,000 centrifuges were currently operating in the Natanz plant in central Iran and the country is expected to increase the number of the centrifuges to 10,000 by April and run 50,000 centrifuges within the next five years.

Tehran has indicated it is ready to remove all international concern that its nuclear work is solely for civil purposes and generating electricity and has welcomed the presence of the US in the negotiations but rejects any preconditions prior to the talks.

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