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11 Feb, 2009 19:24

U.S. vs. Iran: rhetoric or possible progress?

The U.S. President Barack Obama says America is ready to talk to Iran to try and dismantle the wall that has been standing between them for three decades. However, what Iran wants is words put into practice.

“The new U.S. administration has announced that it wants to make a change and start a dialogue. It is quite clear that a real change should be fundamental and not tactical,” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated in response to Obama’s promises.

Will real change in approaches to working with Iran come about? Statements by the new American president appear to echo the previous administration’s rhetoric:

“Its actions have been unhelpful when it comes to promoting peace both in the region and around the world,” said Obama, adding that “their financing of terrorist organisations like Hezbollah and Hamas, their bellicose language that they’ve used towards Israel, their development of a nuclear weapon”.

Popular blogger Ben Cohen from Los Angeles, who focuses on American politics in his work, believes headway is possible if the U.S. lowers its condescending voice.

“I don’t think this rhetoric is helpful, because things he says about Iran are destabilising the region. From the Iranian perspective, of course, it’s America which is destabilising the region. I think Obama’s rhetoric is unhelpful,” Cohen said.

Middle East expert Richard Bullet has focused on U.S. ties with Iran for years. He was one of the people to participate in back-channel talks with Iran in the Clinton era. He believes if the U.S. offers dialogue, it should really listen to the other side.

“The United States has concerns, Iran has concerns, but there is almost no recognition in the United States of what Iran’s concerns are. There will have to be some kind of recognition by the United States that if we put our issues on the table, we also have to recognise that they have issues that they can put on the table,” Bullet says.

He adds that more verbal commitments can be expected from America, but words alone do not mean a solution is any closer.

Russia hopeful of dialogue prospect

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said he attaches great importance to the prospect of direct US talks with Iran.

He added that talks would offer new hope of an end to tit-for-tat retributions over Iran's nuclear programme.

Lavrov also addressed Russia's relations with NATO, saying Russia could provide its military planes to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan.