BAGHDAD (AP) - Iran's foreign minister said Wednesday he was optimistic that conditions throughout the Middle East will improve if President Barack Obama sticks by promises for change that he made during the U.S. election campaign.
Manouchehr Mottaki made his remarks one day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared his country was ready for talks with the United States "in a fair atmosphere with mutual respect."
"We looked positively at the slogans presented by Obama, and we are still at the same position: if the U.S. administration wants to goes with them, then it's good news," Mottaki told reporters, without citing specifics.
"We do believe that these changes give America a good chance in its relations with other countries in the world," he added. "As diplomats, we are optimistic."
Ahmadinejad's comments, and now those of his top diplomat, are the strongest signal yet that Tehran welcomes Obama's calls for dialogue after three decades of hostility since the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979.
On Wednesday as well, however, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said that the U.S. should stop leveling accusations against Iran if it wants relations to improve. The U.S. accuses Iran of supporting terrorism and secretly seeking to build nuclear weapons - charges Iran denies.
"There are manners to holding talks. And the manners require giving up the repeated baseless charges," Qashqavi told reporters.
But he also said President Barack Obama should be given sufficient time to allow him to make changes and pursue his calls for dialogue with Iran.
"We have no intention of making any pre-judgements. We think that Mr. Obama should be given time ... to make fundamental changes," Qashqavi said.
Iraq had become one of the major flashpoints between the U.S. and Iran after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, with U.S. officials accusing the Iranians of backing Shiite militias that were killing Americans.
Iran denied supporting Iraqi extremists but made clear it considered the presence of U.S. forces here a threat to Iranian security. Iran lobbied strongly against a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement which parliament approved in November and which took effect last month.
Despite the interest in dialogue, Mottaki said he saw no reason to continue talks held in 2007 in Baghdad between U.S. and Iranian diplomats on security in Iraq. He said the Iraqi government had now assumed responsibility under the new U.S.-Iraq security agreement that took effect this year.
"In that regard, we can conclude this government can restore security in all of Iraq, and on that basis these kind of discussions have no place under the current circumstances," he said.
Mottaki was in Baghdad with a delegation of Iranian oil and banking officials to discuss expanding ties between the two countries, a sign of the growing foreign interest in Iraq's economic potential in the Middle East.
Mottaki's visit came a day after President Nicolas Sarkozy made the first ever visit to Iraq by a French head of state, a trip that also signaled an effort to cash in on lucrative arms and oil deals.
Mottaki's delegation, which included representatives from the Central Bank, oil, trade and energy ministries, was also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani.
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."
But spokesman Qashqavi said Iran never showed a clenched fist.
"We never clenched our fists. It was Bush that showed his clenched fist to Mideast nations," he said, referring to former President George W. Bush.
Associated Press Writer Ali Akbar Dareini contributed to this report from Tehran.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.