Iran says change under Obama would be "happy news"

BAGHDAD, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Iran sent one of its warmest signals yet on Wednesday over prospects for improved relations with Washington, praising the election promises of President Barack Obama and declaring that change would be "happy news".

In a break from the policy of former President George W. Bush, Obama has said he is willing to start talks with Iran, which Washington accuses of supporting terrorism, meddling in Iraq and seeking nuclear weapons, all charges Tehran denies.

"We look positively on the slogan that Obama raised in the elections. The world has really changed," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said through an Arabic interpreter at a news conference during a visit to neighbouring Iraq.

"If the American administration wants to keep up with the changes, this will be happy news.... We think these changes will provide good opportunities for the American administration in its relations with the countries of the world."

"As diplomats, we are destined to be optimistic, and we wish this would come true."

The tone of Mottaki's remarks was warmer than many previous Iranian comments, which have tended to emphasise the burden on the U.S. administration to prove that any changes in its foreign policy would be genuine and not cosmetic.

On Tuesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran was ready to hold talks, provided they were held in an atmosphere of "mutual respect". Notably, Ahmadinejad did not mention tough preconditions for talks as he has in the past.


In Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi also made conciliatory remarks on Wednesday, saying that while Tehran was still waiting for a formal approach from Obama, it was "inclined to logic, talks and consideration".

"We do not wish that Mr Obama misses the opportunity with us if he really is after bringing about serious changes in his policies," he said. "That is why we would not pre-empt him and make no prejudgement in this connection."

In his inauguration speech in January, Obama told foes he was prepared to extend a hand of peace "if you unclench your fist". Ahmadinejad initially responded cautiously by demanding Washington withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and apologise for what he said were U.S. "crimes" against Iran.

Ultimately, Iran's policy will not be decided by Ahmadinejad -- who faces a presidential election in June -- but by unelected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all matters of state in the Islamic Republic.

Khamenei has not yet spoken about the prospect of talks with an Obama administration, but tends to look for consensus among Iran's elite. (Additional reporting by Hossein Jaseb and Hashem Kalantari in Tehran; writing by Peter Graff; editing by Ralph Boulton)