Washington: US President Barack Obama renewed his administration's offer of dialogue and diplomacy with Tehran on Saturday, a year after his offer of a new beginning with Iran failed to achieve concrete results.
Obama, who addressed Iranians in a new videotaped appeal to mark the observance of Nowruz -- an ancient festival celebrating the arrival of spring -- has pledged to pursue aggressive sanctions to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
"We are working with the international community to hold the Iranian government accountable because they refuse to live up to their international obligations," Obama said in the address, according to excerpts released by the White House.
"But our offer of comprehensive diplomatic contacts and dialogue stands," he said.
Iran, which has refused to halt its uranium enrichment program, denies it is seeking to build a nuclear bomb and says its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity.
Obama said Washington was committed to a "more hopeful" future for the Iranian people despite US differences with Iran's government.
During his first year in office, Obama marked Nowruz with a then-unprecedented message offering Iran a "new beginning" of diplomatic engagement with the United States.
But Tehran rebuffed Obama's gesture and relations soured further when Iranian authorities cracked down on opposition protesters after a disputed election last June, drawing US’ condemnation.
"Over the course of the last year, it is the Iranian government that has chosen to isolate itself, and to choose a self-defeating focus on the past over a commitment to build a better future," Obama said.
"Even as we continue to have differences with the Iranian government, we will sustain our commitment to a more hopeful future for the Iranian people," he said.
Focus on people, sanctions
Obama said the United States was increasing opportunities for educational exchanges for Iranian students to study at US colleges and universities as well as working to increase access to Internet technology so Iranians could "communicate with each other, and with the world, without fear of censorship”.
Obama's openness to engaging diplomatically with Iran if it "unclenched its fist" broke with the previous administration's policy of seeking to isolate the Islamic Republic, which president George W Bush branded part of an "axis of evil”.
Obama has not ruled out any options in dealing with Iran, the world's fifth-largest crude oil exporter, but US officials have repeatedly made clear that their preferred option is diplomacy, given the difficulty of enforcing sanctions and the risk that military action could cause wider conflict.
The United States has agreed with Britain, France and Germany on a draft proposal for a fourth round of sanctions that would place new restrictions on Iranian banks and target the Revolutionary Guard and firms linked to it.
Washington has been struggling to win over China and Russia, both veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council and key allies of Iran, to agree to more aggressive sanctions.
First Published: Saturday, March 20, 2010, 12:34