Iran thinks American voters have had it with the Bush administration's foreign policy and says the campaign for the 2008 election is proof.
President Bush and his top aides may sneer and try to isolate Iran but the Islamic Republic is waiting to see how their successors approach the world, particularly the Middle East, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Thursday.
"What is very clear in the United States is that everybody is looking for changes. That is very important," he said on the sidelines of an international conference on Iraq. Bush accuses Iran of supporting extremists in the country.
"The foreign policy of the United States will affect this presidential election in the United States and that's why all the candidates are trying to say something new to public opinion," Mottaki said.
The Bush administration has adopted a hard-line approach to Iran over Iraq and other issues, notably its nuclear program, its alleged support for terrorist groups and its hostility toward Israel, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said should be wiped off the map.
Mottaki's comments came in an impromptu corridor encounter with a small group of Washington-based reporters who accompanied Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the Iraq conference outside the Swedish capital.
He appeared eager to speak to the reporters after Rice was seen on live television snickering as Mottaki spoke to event participants. Rice and her team pointedly avoided the Iranian delegation at the meeting.
Mottaki said he was not concerned by the snub, noting that "usually, we as Muslims do not shake hands with the ladies, I am sorry, but we do respect the ladies a lot."
He said there were other avenues to get Iran's message across. "There is no need to wait to see anybody, you can handle your message through open diplomacy, through you (journalists)," he said.
Iran's message to present and future U.S. leaders is that they should "correct their policies toward our region," Mottaki said. He added that the three remaining presidential candidates are trying to present new ideas to the public to win votes.
But, he said Tehran doesn't have a favorite even though Democratic hopeful Sen. Barack Obama has said he is willing to meet Ahmadinejad without any preconditions, a significant shift from the Bush stance.
"We do not consider the different candidates and what they say," he said when asked about Obama's stance, which has been heavily criticized by both his Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain.
"We look to the policies of the United States towards our region in general and towards Iran in particular," Mottaki said. "We try not to take part before the final result of the election in the United States and then we will look to their policies."
During his speech to the conference, Rice had rolled her eyes and smirked as Mottaki accused "the occupiers of Iraq" — the United States — of pursuing "mistaken policies" that are responsible for violence there.
In her remarks, Rice avoided any mention of Iran, choosing instead to urge Iraq's neighbors to step up support for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.
Earlier, however, in a news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, she made clear that the Bush administration would continue to punish Iran for its alleged desire to develop nuclear weapons, something Tehran denies, and other behavior with economic sanctions.
Iran "is having a much more difficult time using its money, period, because it is being denied access to the international financial system," Rice said. "And we should be doing everything that we can to deny it — in even greater fashion — access to the international financial system for ill-gotten gains."
Mottaki downplayed the effect of the sanctions on Iran's economy but said his country was willing to receive a new package of incentives being offered by the United States and other world powers for it to halt activities that could produce a nuclear bomb.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana hopes to present that package "soon" and Mottaki said Iran would respond based on how it fits in with Iranian proposals on the same matter.
"We are a patient nation," he said. "First, we will hear and listen to what he is going to say, and then to what he says we will reply with a constructive approach equal to their approach to our package.
"How the other parties approach that package, we will have the same approach to the package that Mr. Solana is bringing to Tehran," Mottaki said.