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Mon 1 Dec 2008 05:02 PM

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No sign of US policy shift - Iran

Foreign ministry plays down prospect of improved ties between two old foes when Obama takes office.

Iran said on Monday US president-elect Barack Obama's comments about its nuclear programme were an indication Washington's stance towards Tehran had not changed.

The remarks by foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi, quoted by the ISNA news agency, were the latest by an Iranian official playing down the prospect of improved ties between the two old foes when Obama takes office in January.

Obama has said he would harden sanctions on Iran but also held out the possibility of direct talks. After his election win last month, he called for an international effort to stop Iran developing a nuclear bomb, saying it was "unacceptable".

Qashqavi said future relations between Iran and the United States, which severed ties with the Islamic republic shortly after its 1979 revolution that ousted the US-backed shah, would depend on Washington.

"One of Obama's conditions for the establishment of ties with Iran has been the cessation of Iran's uranium enrichment which in itself is indicative of lack of change in Washington's perspective towards Iran," he said according to ISNA.

Echoing that line, Iranian deputy foreign minister Hossein Sheikhuleslam, also quoted by ISNA on Monday, said "nothing has changed with the coming of Obama".

The United States is spearheading a drive to isolate the Islamic republic, the world's fourth-largest crude producer, over nuclear work the West suspects is aimed at making bombs.

Iran, which has repeatedly ruled out suspending its enrichment activities, says it wants to produce fuel for nuclear power plants so that it can sell more of its oil.

Iranian officials have said Obama's victory showed Americans wanted a fundamental change from the policies of president George W. Bush, who branded Iran part of an "axis of evil", but that it remained to be seen whether that would happen.

Obama's choice as new secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, vowed when they were vying to be the Democratic presidential candidate to "obliterate" Iran if it attacked Israel.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last month congratulated Obama and called for "fundamental and fair" changes to US policies in the region, but some lawmakers criticised his letter for going too far in making an overture.

Ahmadinejad, who has adopted an uncompromising position on the nuclear issue, said in March that he would have no problem meeting Obama if he was elected. (Reuters)

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