By NANCY ZUCKERBROD
The Associated Press; Tuesday, June 2, 2009 3:40 PM
LONDON — President Barack Obama reiterated that Iran may have some right to nuclear energy _ provided it takes steps to prove its aspirations are peaceful.
In a BBC interview broadcast Tuesday, Obama also restated plans to pursue direct diplomacy with Tehran to encourage it to set aside any ambitions for nuclear weapons it might harbor.
Iran has insisted its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity. But the U.S. and other Western governments accuse Tehran of seeking atomic weapons.
“Without going into specifics, what I do believe is that Iran has legitimate energy concerns, legitimate aspirations. On the other hand, the international community has a very real interest in preventing a nuclear arms race in the region,” Obama said.
The comments echo remarks Obama made in Prague last month in which he said his administration would “support Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections” if Iran proves it is no longer a nuclear threat.
Iranian state television described the news as Obama recognizing the “rights of the Iranian nation,” a phrase typically used to refer to Iran’s nuclear program.
The president has indicated a willingness to seek deeper international sanctions against Tehran if it does not respond positively to U.S. attempts to open negotiations on its nuclear program. Obama has said Tehran has until the end of the year to show it wants to engage.
“Although I don’t want to put artificial time tables on that process, we do want to make sure that, by the end of this year, we’ve actually seen a serious process move forward. And I think that we can measure whether or not the Iranians are serious,” Obama said.
Obama’s interview offered a preview of a speech he is to deliver in Egypt this week, saying he hoped the address would warm relations between Americans and Muslims abroad.
“What we want to do is open a dialogue,” Obama told the BBC. “You know, there are misapprehensions about the West, on the part of the Muslim world. And, obviously, there are some big misapprehensions about the Muslim world when it comes to those of us in the West.”
Obama leaves Tuesday evening on a trip to Egypt and Saudi Arabia aimed at reaching out to the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims. He is due to make his speech in Cairo on Thursday.
Obama sounded an optimistic note about making progress toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, although he offered no new ideas for how he might try to secure a freeze on new building of Israeli settlements. The United States has called for a freeze, but Israeli leaders have rejected that.
Asked what he would say during his visit about human rights abuses, including the detention of political prisoners in Egypt, Obama indicated no stern lecture would be forthcoming.
He said he hoped to deliver the message that democratic values are principles that “they can embrace and affirm.”
Obama added that there is a danger “when the United States, or any country, thinks that we can simply impose these values on another country with a different history and a different culture.”
U.S. to invite Iranian officials to attend National Day parties
WASHINGTON, June 2 (Xinhua) — The U.S. State Department confirmed on Tuesday that it may invite officials from Iran to attend celebrations to mark America’s Independence Day on or around July 4.
“We review these types of invitations every year, and a decision was made this year to invite officials from Iran,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood told a news briefing.
“This is very much in line with our policy of trying to engage the Iranian government,” Wood said. “Clearly, our policy here is to reach out and engage Iran. And so this just one way of doing that.”
However, the spokesman noted that “We have not issued any instructions with regard to substantive discussions with Iranian officials at this point. I mean, certainly, at a July 4 type of event, you’ll have a lot of meeting and greeting of various officials. But in terms of the substantive policy, I don’t believe at this point there has been a change.”
The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that the State Department sent message late last week to all U.S. embassies and consulates, saying that U.S. diplomats could ask their Iranian counterparts to attend July 4 celebrations.
It was said to be a new U.S. overture to Iran, a country that Washington has shunned since 1980.
The United States, which severed its ties with Iran in 1980, has been at odds with Tehran on, among others, its alleged support for militant groups and disputed nuclear activities.
Iran denies the U.S. charges, and insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.