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Sunday, 22 March 2009

'New Beginning'='just a slogan'

Iran's spiritual leader has rebuffed diplomatic overtures from Barack Obama, saying that the US President's promise of a new beginning in relations between the countries was nothing more than a "slogan".

Speaking a day after Mr Obama issued a video appeal to the Iranian leadership, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the US continued to insult Iran, to back its enemies and to impoverish its people through sanctions. He said the US must alter its actions as well as its language. "You change, and our behaviour will change."

The supreme leader's uncompromising response came in his own video address, broadcast to a crowd in the north-eastern city of Mashhad. Chants of "Death to America" broke out as he spoke.

The scenes will be a disappointment to Mr Obama, who had hoped for some sign that Iran's religious leadership would respond to the hand being extended them. It was another setback to end the President's most difficult week since taking office, during which he has struggled to keep up with public anger over financial bailouts and made a TV gaffe.

Mr Obama's video message to Iran, released on Friday, was timed to coincide with the festival of Nowruz, which marks the arrival of spring. "My administration," he said, "is committed to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community." More