TEHRAN (Reuters) - The United States must stop supporting Israel if it wants better relations with Iran, a hardline cleric said on Friday in the first Iranian reaction to U.S. President Barack Obama’s address to the Islamic world.
“Whatever Obama says about forgetting the past and starting a new phase (of relations with Iran), the first condition should be a policy change towards Israel,” Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati told worshippers at Tehran University.
Jannati said Israel was the main problem between the two arch enemies.
“The rest of problems between Iran and America are basic and minor ones,” Jannati said in a sermon, broadcast live on state radio. Iran refuses to recognise Israel and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for its destruction.
“If your support to Israel continues, then the same old story will be repeated again between Iran and America.”
In a break from the policies of his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama is offering improved ties with the Islamic Republic if it “unclenches its fist”.
In his speech in Cairo, Obama called for a “new beginning” in ties between Washington and the Islamic world.
But Jannati said speeches alone would not change the United States’ image in the Middle East.
Speaking ahead of Obama’s speech, Iran’s most powerful figure Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei railed against the United States, saying it was deeply hated by Muslim countries.
“ACTION NOT WORDS”
Khamenei said change and a new image would only come “through practical moves and compensating for U.S. injustice towards the Iranian nation and other nations in the region.”
Jannati echoed Khamenei’s stance, saying U.S. action was needed.
“Changes should be made in practice and not by making nice speeches to the world’s Muslims,” Jannati said to chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”.
The United States broke diplomatic ties with Iran in 1980 after dozens of its diplomats were taken hostage.
But Khamenei has the last say on important state matters such as the nuclear issue and relations with the United States.
Obama wants to curb Iran’s nuclear programme, which Tehran says is peaceful but the West says is to build bombs. Iran has so far refused to suspend its sensitive nuclear work as demanded by the U.N. Security Council.
Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear power, has repeatedly described Iran’s nuclear activities as a threat to its existence and neither it nor Washington have ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the row.