Iran's president called for "profound changes" in U.S. foreign policy during a speech Wednesday, saying the Islamic Republic would welcome a fundamental shift from the new American administration.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments in the western city of Kermanshah came after U.S. President Barack Obama indicated a new willingness to reach out to Muslims and engage with Iran, a country the Bush administration often singled out as the most dangerous in the region.
Without mentioning Obama by name, Ahmadinejad Wednesday repeatedly referred to those who want to bring "change," a word used often in Obama's election campaign, and indicated that Iran would be looking to see if there would be substantive differences in U.S. policy.
"We will wait patiently, listen to their words carefully, scrutinize their actions under a magnifier and if change happens truly and fundamentally, we will welcome that," Ahmadinejad said, speaking to a crowd of thousands.
But the Iranian leader also criticized the United States, saying it should apologize to Iran for what he called past misdeeds. (Iran was ruled from 1941 to 1979 by Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, whose oil-rich absolute monarchy was propped up by U.S. support.)
"The change will be to apologize to the Iranian nation and try to compensate for their dark records and the crimes they have committed against the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad said.
The hardline president also called on Washington to withdraw its troops from around the world and stop supporting Israel.
"Change means giving up support for the rootless, uncivilized, fabricated, murdering … Zionists and let the Palestinian nation decide its own destiny," he said. "Change means putting an end to U.S. military presence in [different parts of] the world."
Important to be willing to talk to Iran, Obama says
In an interview with Al-Arabiya news channel that aired Tuesday, Obama condemned Iran's threats to destroy Israel and its alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons, but said "it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress."
Later Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that the U.S. administration is undertaking a wide-ranging and comprehensive survey of U.S. foreign policy options toward Iran.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari, speaking in Athens, Greece, said Tuesday that it was too early to say whether relations with the United States would improve with Obama as president.
Washington is at odds with Tehran over Iran's nuclear program and its Mideast policy that seeks to destroy Israel and supports the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas.
The U.S. and some of its allies accuse Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the charge and refuses to give up uranium enrichment, saying it has the right under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to produce nuclear fuel.