Iran's president said Tuesday the world was "entering an era of dialogue" and that his country would welcome talks with its longtime adversary, the United States, if they are based on mutual respect.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's announcement comes a day after President Barack Obama said his administration was looking for opportunities to engage Iran and pledged to rethink United States' relationship with Tehran.
"The Iranian nation is ready for talks (with the U.S.) but in a fair atmosphere with mutual respect," Ahmadinejad told hundreds of thousands of Iranians during a celebration marking the 30th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah and brought hard-line clerics to power.
World at a 'crossroads'
The hard-line Iranian leader said terrorism, the elimination of nuclear weapons, restructuring the U.N. Security Council and fighting drug trafficking could be topics for the two sides to talk about.
"If you really want to fight terrorism, come and cooperate with the Iranian nation, which is the biggest victim of terrorism so that terrorism is eliminated. ... If you want to confront nuclear weapons ... you need to stand beside Iran so it can introduce a correct path to you," he said.
Ahmadinejad said the world was at a "crossroads" because it had been proven that military power has not been successful — a reference to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But now, he said, "the world is entering an era of dialogue and intellect."
"The new U.S. government has announced that it wants to bring changes and follow the path of dialogue. It is very clear that changes have to be fundamental and not tactical. It is clear that the Iranian nation welcomes true changes," Ahmadinejad told the crowds at the rally in Freedom Square.
Ahmadinejad also declared that Iran is now a "superpower" — pointing to the recent launching of the first locally made satellite into space — and made clear it expects to be treated as an equal.
In a show of national pride, a model of the new satellite and the rocket that launched it stood among the flag-waving crowds at the rally. As usual at such gatherings, there were chants of "Death to America," along with the burning of U.S. and Israeli flags.
But the chanting stopped as Ahmadinejad spoke of dialogue with the United States, and the firebrand president refrained from the denunciations of America that often mark his speeches. State television showed similar rallies in cities across Iran, saying "millions of people" turned out for the celebrations.
Ahmadinejad's speech also comes as he is entering a campaign for second term in a June election — and he could face a tough fight after Iran's top reformist politician, former President Mohammad Khatami, entered the race over the weekend. Khatami has supported improving ties with the West.
Frayed relationsTehran and Washington severed relations nearly three decades ago after the 1979 Iranian revolution and the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by hard-line Iranian students.
But relations deteriorated even further after the Sept. 11 attacks when former President George W. Bush declared Iran belonged to an "axis of evil." Ahmadinejad widened that gap after he was elected in 2005 and defied the U.S. and its allies by pursuing Iran's controversial nuclear program.
The U.S. believes Iran is secretly trying to pursue nuclear weapons, but Iran has denied this accusation, saying its program is solely for peaceful purposes such as electricity.
Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that the "world does not want to see the dark age of Bush repeated."
"The fate that befell Bush — and it was a very bad fate — can be viewed as a lesson for most of the people that ... want to impose their will on the world," he said.
Since his campaign for president, Obama has signaled a willingness for a dialogue with Iran. At his inauguration last month, Obama said his administration would reach out to Muslims, saying "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday said the U.S. remains opposed to Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, but added the Obama administration hopes there will be an opportunity for the U.S. and Iran to develop what she called "a better understanding of one another."
"There is an opportunity for the Iranian government to demonstrate a willingness to unclench their fist and to begin a serious and responsible discussion about a range of matters," Clinton said.
"We still persist in our view that Iran should not obtain nuclear weapons, that it would be a very unfortunate course for them to pursue, and we hope there will be opportunity in the future for us to develop a better understanding of one another and to work out a way of talking that would produce positive results for the people of Iran."
On Monday, Obama said his national security team was reviewing its existing Iran policy and "looking at areas where we can have constructive dialogue." He said he expected that his administration would be looking for "openings" where Washington and Tehran can sit face-to-face.
Iranian leaders have struck a moderate — but cautious — tone about Obama since his election in November. Ahmadinejad sent Obama a message of congratulations after he was elected — the first time an Iranian leader offered such wishes to the winner of a U.S. presidential race since the two countries broke off relations.
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