Obama's speech: A boost to moderates in Iran's election?

Obama criticized Holocaust deniers. But Ayatollah Khamenei praised US effort at a "new image."

TEHRAN, IRAN – President Barack Obama’s recognition that “no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust” will apply in Iran, where leaders have called for deeds from Washington – and not just words – to ease 30 years of hostility.

As Iranians prepare to vote in June 12 presidential elections, Mr. Obama’s pledge that America was “ready to move forward” with “courage, rectitude, and resolve” will be welcome in Tehran, despite a host of US concerns that include Iran’s nuclear program and opposition to the Israel-Palestine peace process.

“I think the leader has accepted the principle of US talks, but he does not want to get caught in a bind,” says a political analyst in Tehran, referring to Iran’s supreme religious leader Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei. “We all know it’s going to happen soon after the election.”

Obama made no mention of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group that Washington considers a terrorist organization. But he said “when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point” that could “lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.”

Obama said Holocaust deniers were “ignorant and hateful” — a clear criticism of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has questioned the World War II-era event and been challenged on it by his Iranian opponents.

“Moderates in Iran will be ecstatic with this — it will play well with [top opposition candidate Mir Hossein] Mousavi,” says the analyst. “The regime as a whole will look favorably [on Obama’s speech]. For us, the wall of mistrust is important, and this will be a first step. I think it will resonate very much in Saturday’s newspapers.”

There are no papers on Friday.

Obama’s speech came just hours after Ayatollah Khamenei made a speech on Thursday to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of the founder of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Khamenei said the US aim of presenting a “new image” to the Middle East was correct because these nations “hate the United States from the bottom of their hearts because they have seen violence, military intervention, and discrimination.”

Such a transformation would “not be achieved by talking, speeches, and slogans,” he said. Khamenei restated Iran’s position that it was not seeking nuclear weapons, and said US accusations to the contrary were “lies.”

“He likes Obama!” said one young professional upon hearing Khamenei talk. “Did he say anything negative about him? Or the US? It’s all about the Bush administration.”

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