March 26, 2009 / 1:57 PM / 10 years ago

Obama Iran offer best chance of restoring ties: UK

LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama’s offer of better ties with Iran provides the best opportunity to improve relations with the Islamic state, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Thursday. Obama last week made a videotaped overture to Iran, offering a “new beginning” of diplomatic engagement between the two old foes. Iran pledged to respond if the United States changed its own behavior.

“I believe that there will never be a better opportunity than that created by President Obama’s ... recent outreach to the people and government of Iran to move toward a position where Iran exercises its rights in the international community, but also critically, fulfils its responsibilities,” Miliband told an audience in London.

Iran and the West are embroiled in a diplomatic row over Iran’s nuclear work, which the West claims is for making nuclear bombs, while Iran says the program is for expanding its energy supply.

Miliband said the “lack of confidence in the Iranian nuclear program stems from the very real evidence and facts of Iran (providing) misleading information and secret behavior” in the past.

“I think it is very important that we keep saying ... we are not seeking regime change in Iran, we are seeking a change in behavior as it affects the rest of the world and the danger of instability in the region,” he said.

In addition to Obama’s offer of improved relations, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has invited Iran to a U.N. conference next week on Afghanistan.

Iran is fighting a battle against the import of narcotics over its border with Afghanistan, and the United States is hoping that common cause on this issue can also be used not only to better bilateral relations, but use Iran’s influence to provide greater stability in the region.

Iran said Thursday it would attend the conference in The Hague, but had not decided on which representative to send.

Britain is one of six nations — together with China, Russia, France, the United States and Germany — that have been trying to put pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear work.

Reporting by Frank Prenesti; Editing by Richard Williams

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