Sunday, June 26, 2005

US Casts Doubt On Legitimacy Of Iran Poll

Guy Dinmore and Gareth Smyth, The Financial Times:
The Bush administration on Sunday cast doubt on the legitimacy of Iran's newly-elected president, setting the stage for a more intense confrontation over the future of the Islamic state's nuclear programme and the direction of democracy in the Middle East. Donald Rumsfeld, defence secretary, denounced the landslide victory of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, regarded by US officials as a hardline fundamentalist, as the result of a “mock election. READ MORE

Speaking on Fox News, Mr Rumsfeld admitted he did not know much about “this young fellow”.

“But he is no friend of democracy. He's no friend of freedom. He is a person who is very much supportive of the current ayatollahs, who are telling the people of that country how to live their lives. And my guess is over time, the young people and the women will find him, as well as his masters, unacceptable,” Mr Rumsfeld said.

The consolidation of power of all branches of the Iranian government in the hands of hardliners has been mirrored by a parallel struggle over policy inside the Bush administration. Washington's “hawks”, including Mr Rumsfeld and Elizabeth Cheney, who is in charge of state department policy on promoting democracy in the Middle East, have emerged on top.

Members of the US Congress who want the Bush administration to adopt a more forthright policy of “regime change” are likely to step up their efforts to reduce foreign investment in Iran.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, reflecting conservative suspicion over the motives of foreign investors, declared at his first press conference on Sunday: "In all fields, including oil, priority will be given to local investors.”

Mohammad Sadeq Kharrazi, Iran's ambassador to Paris who is involved in nuclear negotiations with the European Union, told the FT the new president would not bring “fundamental change” in either Iran's stance or the make-up of its negotiation team.

Patrick Clawson, senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that although key decisions in Iran remain with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the election of a hardline president would add to US concerns that Iran could not be trusted with anything short of complete cessation of its uranium enrichment programme.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad reiterated Iran's right to produce nuclear fuel for electricity generation.

EU leaders repeated their long-stranding demand that Iran should permanently end uranium enrichment, which it has suspended as a 'goodwill gesture' since October 2003.

Jack Straw, the UK foreign secretary, said there had been “serious deficiencies” in the elections, which had further damaged “an already flawed” process.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad said diplomatic relations with Washington, suspended since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, could be reopened only if the US “gives up its hostility”. But he added that Iran “did not have considerable need for the US”.

This contrasted with campaign promises of improved relations made by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president defeated by Mr Ahmadi-Nejad on Friday.

Additional reporting by Carola Hoyos