Monday, February 2, 2009

No thaw with US as Iran marks anniversary of 1979 revolution

Iran yesterday rejected the idea of improved relations with the US unless there is a sharp change of policy from President Barack Obama, as the country began celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution.
The intelligence minister, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejeie, denied a report that there had been secret contacts between Tehran and Washington about the contentious nuclear issue. "There have been no official negotiations with the Americans," he said, referring to a report from the US Pugwash Conferences, a non-governmental organisation, claiming that Obama advisers and Iranian officials had met in Europe several times.
Iran also denied that its foreign minister, Manuchehr Mottaki, would meet US officials at a conference in Munich which the US vice-president, Joe Biden, will be attending. Expectations are mounting for a positive response from Tehran to Obama's dramatic call for Iran to "unclench" its fist, amid reports that the new administration is considering further gestures.
But the 1979 anniversary celebrations are striking an inevitably militant tone, which makes it hard to sound "soft" on the traditional enemy of the revolution.
On Saturday morning bells and sirens marked the moment on 1 February 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini landed back in Tehran after 14 years in exile. Ten days later, the shah's rule effectively collapsed. The anniversary was early because this is a leap year in the Iranian calendar.
Helicopters dropped flowers along the route from the airport to the Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery in south Tehran where Khomeini made his first speech. The president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, promised "to renew allegiance to the late imam's aspirations". He called the revolution a "new chapter in the life of world communities". Ten days of events are due to end with a mass rally on 10 February.
The US cut diplomatic ties with Tehran soon after the revolution. Relations soured further when student militants held 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days.
Prospects for a new start with the US are a big issue before Iran's presidential elections in June, amid signs that Ahmadinejad, under fire for economic mismanagement at home and adventurism abroad, will be challenged by the reformist former president Mohammad Khatami.
Older Iranians remember that the shah was restored to power in 1953 after the US overthrew the democratically-elected government in order to re-establish British control over Iranian oil.