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Iran Extends Olive Branch New Moderate President Calls For Dialogue With The United States

In the strongest suggestion of rapprochement with the United States since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran’s new president called Sunday for a dialogue with the people of the United States - a nation reviled by his predecessors as “The Great Satan.”

“I take this opportunity to pay my respects to the great American people and hope to have a dialogue with the American people and about the United States in the not too distant future,” President Mohammad Khatami said.

The offer could prove to be the moderate president’s biggest gamble in his effort to steer Iran away from the influence of the hard-line clergy, which has been in power since the 1979 revolution.

A good word for the United States has been unheard of among Iranian leaders since that revolution toppled the U.S.-backed shah and installed a cleric government led by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The revolution-era slogan, “Death to America,” still is taught in schools.

Khatami, whose comment came at a news conference in response to a question about whether he favors mending ties with the United States, did not say what form the dialogue should take.

Asked whether he would go beyond the American people and talk with their government, Khatami said: “The U.S. government is, after all, the U.S. government. It has been elected by the American people, and we respect that.”

State Department officials did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Sources close to Khatami said the president would deliver a similarly forward-looking speech intended for the American people for Christmas. Further details were not available.

The United States severed ties with Iran in 1979 after Islamic militants loyal to the revolutionary government stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage and held them for 444 days.

A resumption of U.S.-Iranian ties is likely to be popular among Iranians who are tired of being cast as a pariah state by the United States and much of the West.

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