TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) – When it comes to dealing with Iran, the country’s parliamentary speaker said the United States would be better served taking up chess than continuing to box, the country’s official news agency reported Saturday.
His comments come at a time when the new administration of President Barack Obama has signaled a new willingness to engage Iran, whose relations with the previous administration were long strained. Obama last week pledged to rethink Washington’s relationship with Tehran.
“The United States needs to play on a chess set (with Iran) instead of playing in a boxing ring,” IRNA quoted Ali Larijani as telling a group of visiting reporters in Tehran Saturday.
And at his inauguration last month, Obama said his administration would reach out to rival states, saying “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has responded by saying Iran would welcome talks with the United States — but only if there was mutual respect.
Iranian officials have said that would mean that the United States needs to stop making “baseless” accusations against the Islamic Republic in order to pave the way for talks between the two longtime adversaries. The U.S. accuses Iran of supporting terrorism and secretly seeking to build nuclear weapons — charges Iran denies.
Larijani, a conservative close to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said actions by the United States were creating obstacles in the way of any rapprochment. Specifically, he said the U.S. has supported Iranian terrorist groups, disrespected Iran’s rights and has repeatedly charged that Iran is seeking an atomic bomb.
Iran has accused the United States of secretly supporting the People’s Mujahedeen, an organization dedicated to the overthrow of the Iranian government. The U.S. denies this and also considers the organization a terrorist group.
Larijani the problems between the two countries couldn’t just be resolved “through words. There is a need for action. The U.S. needs to change the way it behaves toward the Iranian nation.”
Iranian officials have long argued that no talks will succeed unless Washington deals with Iran as an equal party and not seeking to impose its will on the Persian nation.
Meanwhile, Gen. David Petraeus said Saturday at a forum in Doha, Qatar that the U.S. is looking for signs that Iran is willing to cooperate, but he warned Iran should stop backing extremist groups that contribute to ongoing violence in Iraq, adding that the U.S. is watching Tehran “very, very closely.”
The U.S. commander of the region that includes both countries was firm when asked at a U.S.-Islamic world forum what concrete steps Iran could take to improve relations. Foremost on his list was that there be an end to the “training, equipping, funding of extremist elements” in the region, particularly in Iraq.
“One of the elements fueling that violence was indeed the assistance provided by Iran,” he continued. “There is absolutely no question about this, and there is also no question that some of this does continue to this day.”
Iran has denied supporting extremist groups in Iraq.
The United States and Iran severed relations after the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by hard-line Iranian students.
Relations deteriorated even further after the Sept. 11 attacks when former President George W. Bush declared Iran belonged to an “axis of evil,” along with Iraq and North Korea. Ahmadinejad widened that gap after he was elected in 2005 and defied the U.S. and its allies by pursuing Iran’s controversial nuclear program.