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Iran students say time for U.S. to change policy
Mon Jan 19, 2009 10:20am EST
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By Zahra Hosseinian
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Nariman Mostafavi says many Iranian students no longer hold the fierce anti-American views that drove their predecessors to seize the U.S. embassy in 1979.
Now the student activist says it's time for Washington to change and consider new policies toward the Islamic Republic.
As Barack Obama moves into the White House promising more engagement with Iran's rulers while threatening tougher sanctions, the radicalism of the embassy hostage-takers has given way to cautious hope among many in Iran's universities.
"If Obama sticks to his promise of change, there will be hope for the establishment of ties," said Mostafavi, who advocates reform in the Islamic Republic.
But like others, he is wary of predicting a big U.S. shift and also says much will hinge on Iran's own election in June, when hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who often rails against the West, is expected to seek a second term.
"The election of Obama is only one factor," said Reza Sharifi, a member of Iran's main reformist student body. "Healing ties also greatly depends on who takes power in Iran."
Obama is likely to find Iran near the top of his foreign policy in-tray. Washington says Tehran wants to build a nuclear bomb. Iran, the world's fourth biggest oil producer, denies this and says its goal is building power plants to generate electricity.
George W. Bush led an aggressive drive to isolate the Islamic Republic but Tehran has shown no sign of halting its disputed nuclear work. Instead, its activities have gathered pace.
Obama has promised a different approach, emphasizing respect for the Iranian people and spelling out what Washington expects of its leaders. However, Obama's choice for secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has not ruled out military action if needed.
For some students, now may be the time to end the isolation of their country, where "Death to America" resounds at rallies.
"America is a superpower. It is a mistake not to restore ties with America," said Minu Samadi, a 24-year-old art student. "The embassy seizure was necessary 30 years ago. Now it is necessary to restore relations."
Students helped spearhead the ousting of the U.S.-backed Shah in the 1979 revolution. Then in November that year they stormed the U.S. embassy and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. That prompted Washington to cut diplomatic ties in 1980.
Mostafavi said there was now a different mood among students: "Since the revolution, students have changed. Those radical actions are no longer seen."
Debate in Iran about restoring ties has grown as politicians start maneuvering before Iran's presidential race. Continued...
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