Iran Cleric: U.S. Must Stop Support of Israel to Improve Ties

Hardliner Ahmad Jannati says problems U.S. are 'fundamental and not minor.'

The United States must change its policies toward Israel to improve ties with Iran, a senior Iranian ayatollah said Friday.

"Whatever the U.S. president says about forgetting the past and starting a new phase of relations with Iran the first condition should be a policy change toward Israel," Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said at Friday prayers in Tehran.

The ayatollah was referring to U.S. President Barack Obama's speech to the Muslim world Thursday in Cairo, in which he said instead of remaining trapped in the past, the United States was prepared to move forward in its relations with the Islamic republic.

"The problems we have with the U.S. are fundamental and not minor ones," said Jannati, the head of the senate-like Guardian Council.

"Israel is one of the fundamental issues, and the question is what you - Obama - want to do with Israel. If you continue the support, then there will be the same old story again," added the ayatollah, who is prominent in the country's hard-line faction and close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Jannati further blamed the United States for not acknowledging the results of democratic elections in the Palestinian territories, which the militant group Hamas won, and interfering in Lebanon to get desired election results.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Thursday that speeches alone would not change the U.S. image in the Middle East.

"Changes should be made in practice and not by making nice speeches to world Muslims," Khamenei said.

Khamenei, who has the final say on all state affairs in Iran, said that Middle East nations "deeply hate" the United States for its policies in recent years, such as military attacks, political interference and discrimination.

Despite the harsh rhetoric, Ahmadinejad has signaled a willingness to resume talks with what the Iranian government has in the past three decades called the "Great Satan" and enemy of Muslims worldwide.

Ahmadinejad's main challenger in the June 12 presidential election, Mir-Hossein Moussavi, is also in favor of talking to Obama.

The main problem of any bilateral rapprochement and with whatever president, however, is Iran's refusal to suspend its controversial uranium-enrichment program.

The suspension of enrichment is the main demand by not only the U.S. but also the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the European Union.

Both Ahmadinejad and Moussavi said Iran would be willing to assuage Western concerns that the country was working on a secret military program but would not give in to demands to suspend its peaceful nuclear projects, including enrichment.