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Europe

New US Tack on Iran a "Sensible" Move, Says Steinmeier

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has applauded the new approach to Iran offered by US President-elect Barack Obama, saying dialogue with the Islamic Republic was the way forward.

German Chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier with Barack Obama

Steinmeier likes the way Obama seems to be going

Steinmeier said a move away from isolationist policies of the outgoing Bush administration by inviting Tehran to the negotiating table was the right tack.

"Offering dialog with Iran -- that's neither a weakness nor a concession. It's sensible," Steinmeier wrote in a two-page open letter published in the Monday edition of German weekly Der Spiegel.

He said that Obama's inauguration on Tuesday, Jan. 20, would bring more hope to the world than that of any president before him.

He said Obama "stood for change and a new start like no other" president in the US.

"I am now 53 years old, and never in my active memory has the inauguration of an American president given rise to so much hope and confidence," Steinmeier wrote. "Not just with us in Germany, but in the whole world."

Steinmeier, who will challenge incumbent German Chancellor Angela Merkel in elections in September, also signaled Germany's willingness to work closely with the Obama administration to bring peace to the Middle East. He said Germany would also intensify cooperation with the US on future reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

Open-minded, but firm stance on Iran

US President-elect Barack Obama

Barack Obama expects Iran to pose a significant challenge

Obama has indicated his administration would move "swiftly" with new tactics in its approach to Iran to head off a possible nuclear crisis and block Tehran's support of groups the US considers terrorist organizations.

Speaking Sunday in an interview with US news network ABC, Obama said he expected Iran to be "one of our biggest challenges."

"We have a situation in which not only is Iran exporting terrorism through Hamas, through Hezbollah, but they are pursuing a nuclear weapon that could potentially trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East," Obama said.

Obama has previously expressed his willingness to conduct more direct diplomacy with Iran, a change from the Bush administration's refusal to negotiate directly until the Islamic Republic stops enriching uranium, a process that can produce weapons-grade bomb fuel. Tehran insists its enrichment activities are for civilian use only and asserts its natural right to do so.

"We are going to have to take a new approach," Obama said. "The international community is going to be taking cues from us in how we want to approach Iran."

Despite the new course however, Obama has refused to rule out military action to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Obama said he intended to send a signal that "we respect the aspirations of the Iranian people, but that we also have certain expectations in terms of how an international actor behaves."

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