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IRAN: Wary Tehran press welcomes, warns Obama

January 21, 2009 | 10:40 am

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The Iranian press voiced skepticism today about President Obama and his vow to change the way the U.S. does business in the Middle East.

Typical were the sentiments of the conservative Jam-e-Jam daily, which praised the American people for their vote, but expressed doubt that anything would come of it.

"The American people showed their true feelings by voting for Obama and have clearly announced that they want change," the paper said. "However, because of the nature of the political structures of America, it seems that Obama cannot do a lot."

Kayhan, the hard-line conservative daily, doubted Obama's proposal to hold direct, unconditional talks with Iran would bear fruit, saying that certain interests in Washington and Tehran might not allow it.

"The Zionists believe that any talks between Iran and America, especially when no pre-conditions are set, is a full-scale disaster, because it will implicitly recognize uranium enrichment and, by prolonging the duration of talks, can give time to Iran to push its nuclear activities to a point of no return," it said.

"However, talking to America is considered a red line by the Iranians at the moment," it continued. "Perhaps we have to wait for Obama to stress more words like cooperation and relations, and to see whether he supports the reformist groups and helps reinforce opposition networks into a united front."

Another hard-line conservative paper, Jomhuri-ye-Eslami, speculated about how the Iraq war might figure into the administration's plans.

"Both Obama and Hillary Clinton in their electoral campaigns had promised to immediately end the war and withdraw American forces from Iraq," it said. "Following the signing of the Washington-Baghdad security pact, Obama's hands are tied and the military presence of American forces has been legalized. For the new administration, Iraq is a sensitive and troublesome issue."

The liberal-leaning Etemad said Obama faces huge foreign policy challenges that threaten his domestic and international agenda. 

"Barack Obama and his allies know that the continuation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the agitated situation in the Middle East threaten his slogan of 'change', and that he has to put an end to them," it said.

"America has difficult relations with the U.N., resulting from [President] Bush's show of power, and he needs to mend them," it said. "A resurgent Russia, as the war in Georgia showed, is another challenge for Obama's foreign policy."

As for Iran, "America will also have to recognize Iran as a regional power and respect its legitimate rights in the nuclear sphere," the editorial said.

The conservative Resalat urged Obama to change America's treatment of detainees. "Thousands of people are being tortured in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many of America's secret prisons in Asia and Europe," it said

"We have to wait and see how he can change international public opinion regarding the violations of human rights in America and countries that they have attacked," it said.

The hard-line Iran daily, which is close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, gave Bush a less than cordial goodbye:

"Bush left the White House and handed power to Barack Obama. According to many opinion polls, he was the worst American president. In the last eight years, Bush planned to reform the tax regime, to improve security matters, and cure socio-cultural ills. None of these promises have been kept. Bush's heritage in foreign policy is even darker."

On the other side of the political spectrum, the reformist Etemad-e-Melli also bids Bush adieu, but is somewhat more optimistic about Obama than its conservative counterparts:

"Maybe two wars, a global economic crisis and a cease-fire in Gaza were necessary for Barack Obama to finally become president. The George Bush period had such a bad effect on the people of America and the world, that huge expectations were created from Obama. He has tough days ahead as the 44th American president."

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: Iranian daily newspapers and their coverage of President Obama's inauguration ceremony. Credit: Hasan Sarbakhshian / Associated Press

P.S. Get news from Iran, Gaza, Israel and the rest of the Middle East in your mailbox every day. The Los Angeles Times distributes a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, including the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates" and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

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