WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's intent to change the direction of U.S. foreign policy gives Iran a "clear opportunity" to engage more productively on its nuclear program and other issues, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday.
In her first remarks to reporters at the State Department, Clinton said Obama's first days in office have made it clear that a more open Iranian approach to the international community could benefit Iran. She said this was reflected in statements Obama made in an interview Monday with an Arab TV network.
"There is a clear opportunity for the Iranians, as the president expressed in his interview, to demonstrate some willingness to engage meaningfully with the international community," she said. "Whether or not that hand becomes less clenched is really up to them."
Obama told the Al-Arabiya news channel that he wanted to communicate to Muslims that "the Americans are not your enemy." He condemned Iran's threats to destroy Israel and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, but said "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."
Clinton, who criticized Obama for his willingness to speak without conditions with leaders of rogue nations like Iran during their contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, told reporters that the administration is undertaking a wide-ranging and comprehensive survey of U.S. policy options toward Iran.
"There is just a lot that we are considering that I'm not prepared to discuss," she added.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari, speaking in Athens, Greece, said Tuesday that it was too early to say whether relations with the United States would improve with Obama as president.
"We will wait and see (if there is) actual change or just slogans," he said.
Clinton's comments came one day after U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the Obama administration will engage in "direct diplomacy" with Iran. Not since before the 1979 Iranian revolution are U.S. officials believed to have conducted wide-ranging direct diplomacy with Iranian officials. Rice said Iran must meet U.N. Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment before any talks on its nuclear program.
More broadly, Clinton said her initial round of telephone calls with world leaders has yielded positive signs.
"There's a great exhalation of breath going on around the world as people express their appreciation for the new direction that's being set and the team that's (been) put together by the president," said the former New York senator and first lady.
"In areas of the world that have felt either overlooked or not receiving appropriate attention to the problems they are experiencing, there's a welcoming of the engagement that we are promising," she said. "It's not any kind of repudiation or indictment of the past eight years so much as an excitement and an acceptance of how we are going to be doing business."
She dismissed suggestions that Obama's foreign policy team will find it difficult to work together. She said all are determined to find the best way to execute the president's foreign policy objectives.
"We have a lot of damage to repair," she said, referring to U.S. foreign relations as they stood when President George W. Bush left office Jan. 20.
Clinton said she spoke by telephone Tuesday with top Iraqi officials to make clear that there will be continuity in U.S. policy.
She said her call was intended to "reinforce our commitment to a democratic and sovereign Iraq and the importance of their provincial elections." Iraqis are scheduled to vote on Saturday in a set of elections that U.S. and Iraqi officials hope will further solidify progress toward national political reconciliation.
(This version CORRECTS SUBS last graf to correct to Iraqis.)