TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's president said Tuesday the world was "entering an era of dialogue" and that his country would welcome talks with its longtime adversary, the United States, if they are based on mutual respect.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's announcement during a rally celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution comes a day after President Barack Obama said his administration was looking for opportunities to engage Iran and pledged to rethink United States' relationship with Tehran.
"The Iranian nation is ready for talks (with the U.S.) but in a fair atmosphere with mutual respect," Ahmadinejad told hundreds of thousands of Iranians at the rally, which marked the 1979 toppling of the U.S.-backed shah that brought hard-line clerics to power.
The hard-line Iranian leader said terrorism, the elimination of nuclear weapons, restructuring the U.N. Security Council and fighting drug trafficking could be topics for the two sides to talk about.
"If you really want to fight terrorism, come and cooperate with the Iranian nation, which is the biggest victim of terrorism so that terrorism is eliminated. ... If you want to confront nuclear weapons ... you need to stand beside Iran so it can introduce a correct path to you," he said.
Ahmadinejad said the world was at a "crossroads" because it had been proven that military power has not been successful — a reference to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But now, he said, "the world is entering an era of dialogue and intellect."
"The new U.S. government has announced that it wants to bring changes and follow the path of dialogue. It is very clear that changes have to be fundamental and not tactical. It is clear that the Iranian nation welcomes true changes," Ahmadinejad told the crowds at the rally in Freedom Square.
State television showed similar rallies in cities across Iran, saying "millions of people" turned out for the celebrations.
Tehran and Washington severed relations nearly three decades ago after the 1979 Iranian revolution and the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by hard-line Iranian students.
But relations deteriorated even further after the Sept. 11 attacks when former President George W. Bush declared Iran belonged to an "axis of evil." Ahmadinejad widened that gap after he was elected in 2005 and defied the U.S. and its allies by pursuing Iran's controversial nuclear program.
The U.S. believes Iran is secretly trying to pursue nuclear weapons, but Iran has denied this accusation, saying its program is solely for peaceful purposes such as electricity.
Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that the "world does not want to see the dark age of Bush repeated."
"The fate that befell Bush — and it was a very bad fate — can be viewed as a lesson for most of the people that ... want to impose their will on the world," he said.
Since his campaign for president, Obama has signaled a willingness for a dialogue with Iran. At his inauguration last month, Obama said his administration would reach out to rival states, saying "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."
On Monday, Obama said his national security team was reviewing its existing Iran policy and "looking at areas where we can have constructive dialogue." He said he expected that his administration would be looking for "openings" where Washington and Tehran can sit face-to-face.
Iranian leaders have struck a moderate — but cautious — tone about Obama since his election in November. Ahmadinejad sent Obama a message of congratulations after he was elected — the first time an Iranian leader offered such wishes to the winner of a U.S. presidential race since the two countries broke off relations.
In his speech, Ahmadinejad declared Iran a "superpower" and said threats against it had disappeared. He didn't elaborate but apparently meant that the U.S. should treat Iran as an equal.
"Today, I officially announce that the Iranian nation is a true and real superpower ... I need to declare with a loud voice that ... the shadow of threat has been removed forever from over the Iranian nation's head," he said.
Ahmadinejad also lauded Iranian achievements over the past three decades including the recent launch of the first domestically made satellite into orbit.
"Despite the will of evil-wishers ... who tried not to allow us to gain technologies, the satellite launch station is the product of scientists of the Iranian nation," he said.
Last week's launching of satellite — called Omid, or hope, in Farsi — was a key step for Iran's ambitions space program that has worried the U.S. and others because the same rocket technology used to launch satellites can also deliver warheads.
An actual-size model of Omid and its carrier rocket were displayed at Tuesday's rally, and leaflets containing information about the satellite were distributed.
The launch also was a symbol of national pride to Iranians even as falling oil prices have battered the economy and Ahmadinejad's popularity. On Sunday, former reformist President Mohammed Khatami announced he would run for president again and challenge Ahmadinejad, who is seeking a second term in the June vote.
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