In his first news conference as president on Monday, President Obama talked about the possibility of face-to-face discussions with Iran.
"There's the possibility at least of a relationship of mutual respect and progress," he said.
The president called on Iran to signal that it will "act differently." Within hours, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded.
"The Iranian nation is prepared to talk," he said. "However, these talks should be held in a fair atmosphere in which there is mutual respect."
Hamid Dabashi, Hagop Kevorkian professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, attributes the shift in Ahmadinejad's tone to the announcement by former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformer, that he will be a candidate in June's presidential election.
"Ahmadinejad wants to indicate to his constituency, and to the Iranian electorate at large, that he's not as belligerent as he has been portrayed to be, that he would also be willing to sit down across the table and have a conversation with Americans," Dabashi tells NPR's Melissa Block. "And as a result, what we heard today in Iran was his first campaign address."
Dabashi says he expects Ahmadinejad to act differently than he has until now because of strategic and tactical reasons. He says Iran and the U.S. share similar interests in the region, pointing to Iranian cooperation in the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and in Iraq.
"Even under the hostile and belligerent confrontational relationship that existed during the Ahmadinejad and the second Bush presidency, there were effective coordination and effective collaboration despite the sanctions and despite the rhetoric," Dabashi says. "And one can only expect and hope that during the Obama administration, especially with this almost 180-degree change in tone, things would be much different."