Iran waiting for real US policy change, Ahmadinejad says

Iran waiting for real US policy change, Ahmadinejad says Tehran  - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Wednesday welcomed overtures by US President Barack Obama, but said that Tehran is still waiting for real changes in the new US administration's policies.

Obama, in a message last month on the occasion of the Persian New Year, said he wanted better ties with the Islamic republic and offered a new start in relations after decades of mistrust.

"We are still waiting for practical and essential changes in the US policies," Ahmadinejad told a crowd in the central city of Isfahan during an official visit.

"What the esteemed president of America is saying must be seen in practice, otherwise nothing would change by words," Ahmadinejad continued, making it first time an Iranian official called a US head of state "esteemed president."

In a shift from the policies of his predecessor George W Bush, who branded Iran as part of an "axis of evil" and pursued policies to isolate the Islamic state, Obama offered a hand of peace to Tehran if it "unclenches its fist."

"[The] Iranian nation would welcome a hand if extended sincerely with respect," Ahmadinejad said. "If this hand appears to be honest but it is dishonest inwardly then our response would be the same as before."

In a first reaction to Obama's video message, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejected the overture last month, accusing Obama of using "the same rhetoric" as his predecessor.

Tehran and Washington cut diplomatic ties shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution took power, when students seized the US embassy and took its diplomats hostage for
444 days.(dpa)