WASHINGTON DC: March 20, 2009. (AFP) US President Barack Obama launched an historic direct appeal to the Iranian people on Friday, urging an end to decades of animosity and offering "honest" engagement with the Islamic Republic.
A top advisor to Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad welcomed Obama's olive branch, but urged Washington to recognize and repair "past mistakes."
Obama said in a video message marking the Iranian New Year, Nowruz, that his administration "is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community."
In a new decisive break with his predecessor, President George W. Bush, Obama called the celebrations a time of "new beginnings."
He said he wanted a new era of "engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect."
Obama said he wanted "constructive ties" with Iran, which could take its "rightful place" in the world if it renounced terror and embraced peace.
"For nearly three decades relations between our nations have been strained," he said. "But at this holiday we are reminded of the common humanity that binds us together."
The two nations have had no diplomatic ties since 1980, following Iran's Islamic revolution and the taking of US diplomats as hostages for more than a year.
Bush lumped Iran in his "Axis of Evil" with North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, then led international accusations that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear bomb. Iranian officials regularly refer to Washington as the "Great Satan."
"We welcome the wish of the president of the United States to put away past differences," the Iranian president's press advisor Ali Akbar Javanfekr told AFP in Tehran.
But he added: "The American administration has to recognize its past mistakes and repair them as a way to put away the differences."
"If Obama shows willingness to take action, the Iranian government will not show its back to him," Javanfekr said, while condemning what he called the "hostile, aggressive and colonialist attitude of the American government."
Iran's Energy Minister Parviz Fattah said: "Absolutely this message is positive ... although it might also have negative points in itself as well."
Iran's leaders "will precisely assess this message. We believe that we need that in addition to messages we need positive action from Mr. Obama as well as from his government," the minister said in Islamabad.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana described the Obama video as "a very constructive message" that could "open a new chapter" in international relations with Tehran.
"I hope very much that the Iranians will take good attention" to Obama's message, he told reporters in Brussels.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also welcomed the statement. "The start of substantive dialogue will facilitate the revival of trust in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program," he said.
Without restating accusations of Iran's support for terrorism or its nuclear program, Obama said "the United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations."
"You have that right -- but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization.
"And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create."
Obama highlighted the potential for "greater opportunities for partnership and commerce.
"It's a future where the old divisions are overcome, where you and all of your neighbors and the wider world can live in greater security and greater peace."
Obama's address signals his administration's recognition of Iran as a potential negotiating partner, even though he has declined to rule out military action to stop Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.
Obama pledged during his election campaign last year to engage with Washington's adversaries. During his January 20 inaugural address he promised the Muslim world he would "extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."
The Iranian president then encouraged Obama to "put an end to the expansionist policies" of the United States.
Iran could be a key player in the United States exit from Iraq, tackling the Taliban in Afghanistan, and progress on the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
The White House said a version of the video with Farsi subtitles was distributed to news outlets in the region Friday. There is also an online version.