President Ahmadinejad -- who's recently been described as "the Unidentified Flying Object of Iranian and global politics" whose "antics have made Iran a laughingstock on the world stage" -- said today that Iran is ready for talks with Barack Obama.
And he didn't sound too weird, either.
"The Iranian nation is ready for talks (with the U.S.) but in a fair atmosphere with mutual respect ... If you really want to fight terrorism, come and cooperate with the Iranian nation, which is the biggest victim of terrorism so that terrorism is eliminated. ... If you want to confront nuclear weapons ... you need to stand beside Iran so it can introduce a correct path to you. ...
"The world is entering an era of dialogue and intellect. The new U.S. government has announced that it wants to bring changes and follow the path of dialogue. It is very clear that changes have to be fundamental and not tactical. It is clear that the Iranian nation welcomes true changes."
Big stuff from the UFO, who added that the world "does not want to see the dark age of Bush repeated."
Meanwhile, Iran's parliament speaker (and hardliner) Ali Larijani said the same thing, pretty much, in Madrid:
"If they believe in some plan, they should present it through diplomatic means. Diplomacy was created for that. If Iran feels that there really exists a firm decision to solve the problems of the region, if it feels the change in the United States is a strategic change and not tactical, and that talks with Iran would help national interests and those of the region, Iran could examine it. ... Talking about negotiations should not be a juggling game in the media."
This, mind you, is not coming from former President Khatami, who decided this week to challenge Ahmadinejad for the presidency in elections this summer. This is coming from the hardliners, unquestionably with the support of Ali Khamenei, the turban-wearing Supreme Leader.
Seems like a direct response to what President Obama said last night about Iran:
I said during the campaign that Iran is a country that has extraordinary people, extraordinary history and traditions, but that its actions over many years now have been unhelpful when it comes to promoting peace and prosperity both in the region and around the world, that their attacks -- or their -- their financing of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, the bellicose language that they've used towards Israel, their development of a nuclear weapon or their pursuit of a nuclear weapon, that all those things create the possibility of destabilizing the region and are not only contrary to our interests, but I think are contrary to the interests of international peace.
What I've also said is that we should take an approach with Iran that employs all of the resources at the United States' disposal, and that includes diplomacy.
And so my national security team is currently reviewing our existing Iran policy, looking at areas where we can have constructive dialogue, where we can directly engage with them.
And my expectation is, in the coming months, we will be looking for openings that can be created where we can start sitting across the table, face-to-face diplomatic overtures, that will allow us to move our policy in a new direction.
There's been a lot of mistrust built up over the years, so it's not going to happen overnight. And it's important that, even as we engage in this direct diplomacy, we are very clear about certain deep concerns that we have as a country, that Iran understands that we find the funding of terrorist organizations unacceptable, that we're clear about the fact that a nuclear Iran could set off a nuclear arms race in the region that would be profoundly destabilizing.
So there are going to be a set of objectives that we have in these conversations, but I think that there's the possibility at least of a relationship of mutual respect and progress.
And I think that, if you look at how we've approached the Middle East, my designation of George Mitchell as a special envoy to help deal with the Arab-Israeli situation, some of the interviews that I've given, it indicates the degree to which we want to do things differently in the region.
Now it's time for Iran to send some signals that it wants to act differently, as well, and recognize that, even as it has some rights as a member of the international community, with those rights come responsibilities.
Now, let's just hope he selects someone like George Mitchell to approach Iran with subtlety, toughness, and respect -- and not someone like Dennis Ross. Ross is widely reported to have a lock on the job, but it hasn't been announced yet. And sources tell me that iy yet may not be a done deal. Here's hoping. Somehow, I don't think the Iranians would see Ross' selection as a sign that the United States was ready to turn the page.