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Obama urges steps from Iran over nuclear dispute

US President Barack Obama speaks on March 15, 2013 in Argonne, Illinois.
US President Barack Obama urged Iran to take "immediate and meaningful steps" to move "toward an enduring, long-term settlement" with the world over its disputed nuclear program.

US President Barack Obama urged Iran on Monday to take "immediate and meaningful steps" to move "toward an enduring, long-term settlement" with the world over its disputed nuclear program.

In a video message in honor of the Iranian Nowruz holiday, Obama said that if Tehran took such action "the Iranian people will begin to see the benefits of greater trade and ties with other nations, including the United States."

Iran is under increasingly biting international sanctions imposed over its nuclear program, which the United States and other Western nations fear is aimed at producing an atomic weapon, but which Tehran says is entirely peaceful.

Both the United States and Israel have refused to rule out military action to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and the issue is likely to top the agenda this week during Obama's first trip to Israel as president.

Obama said last week that it would take "over a year or so" for Iran to build a nuclear bomb.

In the message in honor of Nowruz -- the Persian New Year -- Obama appealed to ordinary Iranians, saying "the people of Iran have paid a high and unnecessary price because of your leaders' unwillingness to address this issue.

"As I've said all along, the United States prefers to resolve this matter peacefully, diplomatically.

"Indeed, if -- as Iran's leaders say -- their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, then there is a basis for a practical solution."

Obama delivered his first annual Nowruz address to Iran shortly after being sworn in in 2009 as part of a policy of engagement with Iran's leadership.

But the administration backed away from the approach later that year when Iran cracked down on protests over a disputed election, and has since helped to secure international sanctions that have increasingly isolated Tehran.

The two countries have had tense relations since the 1979 Iranian revolution that toppled the US-allied Shah and the hostage crisis later that year, in which radical students held more than 50 Americans for 444 days.

Obama closed the Nowruz message by quoting the famed medieval Persian poet Hafez, saying: "Plant the tree of friendship that bears the fruit of fulfillment; uproot the sapling of enmity that bears endless suffering."

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