TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran said on Monday it would not hinder any Turkish bid to mediate between the Islamic Republic and the new U.S. administration but cautioned that its differences with Washington were deep-rooted.
The New York Times said last week Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan expressed readiness to mediate between the two foes, which have not had diplomatic ties for three decades and are now embroiled in a row over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Relations with Iran will be one of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s main foreign policy challenges when he takes office in January. He has said he would harden sanctions but has also held out the possibility of direct talks.
Iranian officials have reacted cautiously to Obama’s election, saying it reflects the American people’s desire for fundamental change in U.S. policies at home and abroad but that it remains to be seen whether he will live up to expectations.
Asked about Erdogan’s remarks to the New York Times that Obama’s election opened new opportunities for a shift in Iran- U.S. relations and that Ankara would be ready to mediate, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said:
“We think the comments ... stem from Turkish goodwill and good and growing neighborly ties between Iran and Turkey, so we will certainly not raise any obstacles.”
“But the reality is that the issue and problems between Iran and the United states go beyond the usual political problems between two countries,” he told a news conference.
The United States severed ties with Iran shortly after its 1979 Islamic revolution and is now spearheading efforts to isolate the country over sensitive nuclear work the West suspects is aimed at making bombs, a charge Tehran denies.
“Around 30 years after the ... revolution the Americans have had negative performance toward us,” Qashqavi said. “Mr Obama has come forward with slogans and now we will have to see whether the change in orientation is serious or not.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad congratulated Obama after his November 4 victory, but other officials in Tehran later criticized the U.S. president-elect’s call for an international effort to stop Iran developing a nuclear bomb.
Iran, the world’s fourth-largest crude oil producer, says its nuclear programme is aimed at generating electricity.
Like outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush, who branded Iran part of an “axis of evil,” Obama has not ruled out military action although he has criticized the outgoing administration for not pushing for more diplomacy and engagement with Iran.
Iran has said it would respond to any attack by targeting U.S. interests and Washington’s ally Israel, as well as closing the Strait of Hormuz, a vital route for world oil supplies.
Erdogan said Ankara watched relations between Iran and the United States with great concern and that Ahmadinejad’s note of congratulation to Obama was “a step that has to be made use of.”
Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Dominic Evans
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