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Iran offers rare praise for 'the Great Satan' (+video)

Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei directed rare praise at the United States, welcoming a speech by President Obama that aimed to cool war rhetoric surrounding Iran's nuclear program.

By Staff Writer / March 8, 2012

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (l.) delivers a speech during his meeting with members of Experts Assembly in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, March 8. Iran's top leader Thursday welcomed comments by US President Obama advocating diplomacy and not war as a solution to Tehran's nuclear ambitions, a rare positive signal in long-standing hostile transactions between Tehran and Washington.

Office of the Supreme Leader/AP

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Iran’s supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei today gave brief but unprecedented praise to a leader of the United States, welcoming President Obama's effort to cool down war rhetoric in the West surrounding Iran's nuclear program.

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“This talk is good talk and shows an exit from illusion,” Ayatollah Khamenei told Iran’s Assembly of Experts, a senior clerical body, according to a translation by Agence France-Presse. “But the US president continued saying that he wants to make the Iranian people kneel through sanctions, this part of this speech shows the continuation of illusion in this issue."

Khamenei's rare and unexpected praise of Mr. Obama may be a first signal of an easing of the paranoia that has gripped the Iranian regime since a popular uprising erupted after elections in 2009. The Islamic Republic proclaimed a “victory” in parliamentary elections last week, declaring an official 64 percent turnout critical to internal security and legitimacy.

Khamenei said that result would boost Iran’s “prestige and security,” and actual belief in such support – despite an opposition boycott and numerous irregularities – may have underpinned his words today.

A snap analysis by the Iran News Now website of Khamenei’s comments said the parliamentary elections “have left Khamenei feeling secure enough to publicly acknowledge Obama’s caution on war talk.”

Khamenei’s praise of Obama is “also a sign that he fears the possibility of an attack, otherwise, it is out of character for Khamenei,” wrote Iran News Now. “Combo of feeling secure internally but insecure externally has led to Khamenei begrudgingly giving a qualified nod to Obama.”

Obama has in recent days sought to dampen war talk from Republican presidential candidates, Congress, and Israeli leaders and their supporters at a 13,000-strong conference of the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby in Washington.

'Not a game'

“This is not a game. There is nothing casual about it,” Obama said on Tuesday, scolding Republicans for “bluster” and “big talk” about launching strikes against Iran to halt Iran’s nuclear efforts. The US president said he believed there remained a “window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically.”

Khamenei, meanwhile, has only rarely in recent years commented directly on words or gestures from the United States – which Iran has lambasted as an arch enemy since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

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