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Iran awaits new approach by U.S. leader

Foreign minister: Next president should "correct . . . policies" in region.

UPPLANDS VASBY, Sweden - President Bush and his top aides may try to isolate Iran, but the Islamic Republic is waiting to see how their successors approach the world, particularly the Middle East, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said yesterday.

"What is very clear in the United States is that everybody is looking for changes. That is very important," he said on the sidelines of an international conference on Iraq. Bush accuses Iran of supporting extremists in Iraq.

"The foreign policy of the United States will affect this presidential election in the United States and that's why all the candidates are trying to say something new to public opinion," Mottaki said.

The Bush administration has adopted a hard-line approach to Iran over Iraq and other issues, notably its nuclear program, its alleged support for terrorist groups, and its hostility toward Israel, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said should be wiped off the map.

Mottaki's comments came in an impromptu corridor encounter with a small group of Washington-based reporters who accompanied Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the Iraq conference outside the Swedish capital.

He appeared eager to speak to the reporters after Rice was seen on live television snickering as Mottaki spoke to event participants. Rice and her team pointedly avoided the Iranian delegation.

Mottaki said he was not concerned by the snub, noting that "usually, we as Muslims do not shake hands with the ladies, I am sorry, but we do respect the ladies a lot."

He said there were other avenues in which to get Iran's message across. "There is no need to wait to see anybody," he said. "You can handle your message through open diplomacy, through you [journalists]."

Iran's message to present and future U.S. leaders is that they should "correct their policies toward our region," Mottaki said.

He said Tehran did not have a favorite even though Democratic Sen. Barack Obama has said he is willing to meet Ahmadinejad without preconditions, a big shift from the Bush stance.

"We do not consider the different candidates and what they say," he said when asked about Obama's stance, which has been heavily criticized by both his Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain.

"We look to the policies of the United States toward our region in general and toward Iran in particular," Mottaki said.

During his speech to the conference, Rice had rolled her eyes and smirked as Mottaki accused "the occupiers of Iraq" - the United States - of pursuing "mistaken policies" that are responsible for violence there.

In her remarks, Rice avoided any mention of Iran.