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Iran Speaker Says Obama No Better Than Bush

Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani (file photo)

Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani (file photo)

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- U.S. steps to renew sanctions and seize a New York skyscraper linked to Iran show that President Barack Obama is no better than his predecessor George W. Bush, Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani has said.

Larijani's statement, which was followed by chants of "Death to America" among MPs in the legislature, was the latest from Tehran voicing disappointment in the new U.S. administration's policies toward the Islamic Republic.

It came as Obama, during a visit to Asia the same day, said time was running out for diplomacy in a dispute over Iran's nuclear programme, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes but which the West suspects has military aims.

Since taking office in January, Obama has sought to reach out diplomatically to Iran, but the dispute over Tehran's atomic activities continues.

"After one year of giving speeches and baseless slogans, it is a disgrace to see the behavior and the attitudes of this president are not better than his predecessor's," Larijani told parliament, the official IRNA news agency said.

U.S. prosecutors filed a civil lawsuit on November 12 to seize control of a New York City skyscraper they say is owned by companies illegally funneling money to the Iranian government.

The suit seeks to revoke the Alavi Foundation and the Assa Corporation's ownership of a 36-storey building at 650 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The original lawsuit filed in December only sought Assa Corp's building share.

Prosecutors said both companies were sending money to Bank Melli, owned by the Iranian government. The U.S. Treasury has designated the bank as a weapons proliferator and banned U.S. citizens from dealing with it.

Also on November 12, Obama renewed some long-standing U.S. financial sanctions against Iran. Obama notified Congress that, as expected, he was extending a set of existing U.S. measures against Tehran for another year, saying that "our relations with Iran have not yet returned to normal."

The sanctions that Obama renewed, which involve certain frozen Iranian assets, stem from a "national emergency" the U.S. government declared in November 1979 near the start of the Iran hostage crisis. Such sanctions have to be extended annually by the U.S. president to remain in effect.

Larijani said: "Extension of restrictions and sanctions against the Iranian nation for another year, and also blocking the accounts and assets of the Alavi Foundation in America, show how deep are the changes in the United States."

He also accused Washington of "childish actions" after Iran's disputed June election as well as "irrational proposals" on the nuclear issue. This showed that the "claimed changes by Obama were nothing but deceiving signals," Larijani said.