WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama wished the people of Iran a happy Persian New Year on Thursday, expressing hope that a diplomatic agreement would be reached to ensure that its nuclear program was peaceful.

Outlining few new details of the American negotiating position, the president said that Iran would “have access to peaceful nuclear energy” in a final settlement, should one be reached between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 powers – the US, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany – in the next four months.

On Friday, the Persian nation is celebrating Nowruz, the traditional beginning of spring and its calendar year.

In Jerusalem, President Shimon Peres also relayed a message of well-wishes on Thursday to the Iranian people ahead of Nowruz.

“Dear Iranian citizens, in every place where you are found: Happy Nowruz!” Peres said in the official language of Iran during a video interview with Israel Radio’s Farsi service.

“Let’s have a year of quiet and peace, and forget war and threatening. We can do it and we have to do it.”

In his videotaped address, Obama said that improved relations between the US and Iran must begin at the negotiating table in Vienna over Iran’s expansive nuclear program, telling Iranians they “deserve better” than the status quo of harsh, punitive sanctions, crippling their economy all for their right to enrich uranium and to have a heavy-water plutonium reactor.

“Iran’s highest officials, including Supreme Leader [Ali] Khamenei, have said that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons,” Obama said. “So there is a chance to reach an agreement if Iran takes meaningful and verifiable steps to assure the world that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.”

In briefly characterizing his phone call with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani last fall, Obama said that at the time, he expressed great respect for the people of Iran – “just as [Rouhani] expressed his respect for the American people.”

“Since then, we’ve made progress,” Obama said of the nuclear talks, on what he described as “one of the greatest challenges to international peace and security.”

“For the first time in many years, we have the opportunity to start down a new path,” he said. “If Iran seizes this moment, this Nowruz could mark not just the beginning of a new year, but a new chapter in the history of Iran and its role in the world.”

Peres, in his remarks to the Iranian people, recounted events in Jewish and Persian history, pointing out similarities between the two nations.

“The Jewish people, and the Persian people – the Iranian people – have a very long history, and we’re going to have a longer future. Our history is a happy history, the relations between your people and our people are more than good,” he said. “Actually, your great king Cyrus was really the man, the leader that called the Jewish people to come back, and go back, to their land, to Israel. This was the first return of the Jewish people to their old home. We shall never forget it.

“We are old cultures, we learn history, we make history, we will respect history and we have a heritage of values.

We are not just two business peoples – we are two nations that respect culture, that respect human dignity, that yearn to live in peace and understanding.”

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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