(photo credit: AP)
US President Barack Obama reiterated that his administration would talk to Iran.
"Iran has acted in ways that are not not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region," Obama told Al Arabiya television on Monday night. "Their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past - none of these things have been helpful."
"But I do think that 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," he stressed. "And we will over the next several months be laying out our general framework and approach. And as I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us."
Likewise, the newly installed US ambassador to the United Nations said earlier Monday that the Obama administration would engage in "direct diplomacy" with the Islamic Republic.
Not since before the 1979 Iranian revolution are US officials believed to have conducted wide-ranging direct diplomacy with Iranian officials. But US Ambassador Susan Rice warned that Iran must meet UN Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment before any talks on its nuclear program.
"The dialogue and diplomacy must go hand in hand with a very firm message from the United States and the international community that Iran needs to meet its obligations as defined by the Security Council. And its continuing refusal to do so will only cause pressure to increase," she told reporters during a brief question-and-answer session.
Her comments came shortly after she met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on her first day on the job.
Iran still considers the US the "Great Satan," but a day after Obama was sworn in, it said it was "ready for new approaches by the United States." Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said his country would look into the idea of allowing the US to open a diplomatic office in Teheran, the first since 1979.
Rice said the US remains "deeply concerned about the threat that Iran's nuclear program poses to the region, indeed to the United States and the entire international community."
"We look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy that includes direct diplomacy with Iran," she said. It would include "continued collaboration and partnership" with the other four permanent members of the Security Council - Britain, China, France and Russia - along with Germany, Rice said.
"And we will look at what is necessary and appropriate with respect to maintaining pressure toward that goal of ending Iran's nuclear program," she said.
In recent years, Iranian and American officials have negotiated in the same room on talks about Afghanistan that involved other countries' diplomats. They also talked face to face in Baghdad but the agenda was limited to Iraqi security.