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Iran keen to offend, despite 'softer' US line

Mark Mardell | 22:58 UK time, Thursday, 23 September 2010

New York
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems keener on offending the US than talking to it. He provoked a walkout with a line from the "truther" movement, when he said most of the world believed the US government had launched the 9/11 attacks in order to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.

The State Department replied:

Rather than representing the aspirations and goodwill of the Iranian people, Mr Ahmadinejad has yet again chosen to spout vile conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic slurs that are as abhorrent and delusional as they are predictable.

It is perhaps very small comfort that Mr Ahmadinejad went on to say that Iran had always been ready for dialogue.

But in his address, President Barack Obama seemed to me to strike a softer line than often in the past. He told the United Nations General Assembly:

The US and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it. But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment, and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear programme.

The important point was what he did not say: "or else". I have never heard Mr Obama talk about the issue of Iran's apparent plan to develop nuclear weapons without talking about sanctions, sometimes adding that "other options" were on the table.

This seems to me a slightly milder public line which might support rumours and reports in Israeli newspapers that at some low level the US and Iran are beginning talks on the margins of the United Nations.

It may be no more than rumour. A colleague of mine who is well plugged into the Middle East believes Mr Obama simply doesn't want to add to the drum beat of war when the region is already very tense. And the west thinks things are shifting in Iran although even very experienced diplomats seem at a loss explaining which factions are backing what shift.

We may learn more when Mr Obama gives an interview to BBC Persian tomorrow. Watch this space.


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