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Tehran: Obama Won't Change U.S.-Iran Relations

Wednesday, 04 Feb 2009 09:31 AM

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TEHRAN – A representative of Iran's supreme leader said Barack Obama taking office as U.S. president did not mean Tehran's ties with Washington would change, a news agency reported on Wednesday.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ultimate authority over policy in the Islamic Republic, has yet to comment on Obama's presidency or his offer to extend a hand of peace if Iran "unclenched its fist."

The leader has representatives to many institutions and regions. Though not a perfect guide, their comments can give an indication of views prevalent among Iran's leadership.

"Any government has 'red lines' and our 'red lines' are rejecting the arrogant policies of America and the Zionist regime," said the representative to the Revolutionary Guards in northwestern Zanjan province, cleric Hojjatoleslam Ali Maboudi.

"Opposing the Zionist regime and defending oppressed people are among the pillars of the Islamic revolution and Iran and America's relationship will not change because of Obama taking office," he said, Fars News Agency reported.

Iran does not recognize Israel's right to exist and officials often refer to the country as the "Zionist regime." Officials reflect the view that U.S. ties with Israel as so close that their policies are indistinguishable.

Other Iranian officials have set tough conditions for opening dialogue with Washington after 30 years of hostility. But analysts say such terms could be more of a gambit to buy time for the leadership to determine how to proceed.

The United States has long accused Iran of undermining peace in the Middle East by backing what Washington calls "terrorist" groups like Palestinian Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah. Tehran say the groups aim to free Palestinians from Israeli occupation.

Khamenei may have the final say in policy, but analysts say he tends to reach decisions by seeking a consensus among influential politicians, clerics and powerful state bodies.

The president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is only one among those voices. He has said the United States must withdraw troops from bases around the world and apologize for decades of U.S. "crimes" against Iran. Neither are likely to met soon if at all.

Obama's administration has offered direct talks but warned of more pressure if Iran does not halt work the West says is to build nuclear bombs. Tehran denies any such ambitions.

"The Zionists brought Obama to power to help America pass through its current challenges," Maboudi said on Tuesday night.

The Guards are an ideologically driven force set up after the 1979 Islamic revolution to defend the system of clerical rule, with a separate command structure to the regular military.

While fiercely loyal to the system, analysts say political views in force are not always homogenous but mostly reflect hardliners passionately opposed to Washington and the U.S. influence ejected in 1979 when the U.S.-backed shah was ousted.

© 2009 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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