WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama marked the Persian New Year, Nowruz, by reaching out to Iranian youth, saying the future of their country is in their hands and that he supports them.
"The future of Iran belongs to the young people -- the youth who will determine their own destiny," Obama said on Sunday in a video posted on the White House web site.
"Your talent, your hopes and your choices will shape the future of Iran, and help light the world. And though times may seem dark, I want you to know that I am with you," Obama said.
As popular revolts sweep the Middle East, the United States has expressed solidarity with pro democracy activists in Iran. But Tehran has so far not seen the kind of major demonstrations taking place in other countries in the Mideast and Africa.
When he first took office, Obama signaled an openness to engaging diplomatically with Iran's government.
But tensions between Washington and the Islamic Republic have remained high amid a standoff over Iran's nuclear program and Western sanctions on Tehran.
The United States and its allies suspect Iran is enriching uranium to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is purely for the production of energy.
In a reference to tense relations between Washington and Tehran, Obama said Iranian youth "are not bound by the chains of the past." He also said the demonstrations that have spread across the Middle East and North Africa were similar to protests in Iran in 2009.
In a separate holiday statement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton restated U.S. support for peaceful demonstrations in the region.
"This year allows us to reflect on recent events in the Middle East," she said.
"We commend the demonstration of peaceful expressions of human rights and dignity we have seen in much of the region."
(Reporting by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Todd Eastham)