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Obama believes progress possible with Iran

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama said he believes direct talks may bring "mutual respect and progress" with Iran.

In his first major presidential news conference, Obama outlined his plans Monday for dealing directly with the Islamic Republic in a bid to have it end its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Obama said his team was "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" in the coming months.

"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," Obama said. "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."

Obama emphasized again that he would be more engaged in the region than his predecessor, George W. Bush.

"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," he said.

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