The U.S. today refused to accept hardline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s claim of a landslide re-election victory in Iran and said it was looking into allegations of election fraud. Any hopes by the Obama administration of gaining a result similar to Lebanon’s recent election, won by a Western-backed moderate coalition, appeared to be in jeopardy. “We are monitoring the situation as it unfolds in Iran, but we, like the rest of the world, are waiting and watching to see what the Iranian people decide,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said at a news conference with Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Lawrence Cannon.
Minutes after Clinton spoke, the White House released a two-sentence statement praising “the vigorous debate and enthusiasm that this election generated, particularly among young Iranians,” but expressing concern about “reports of irregularities.”
Despite the challenge from reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi to incumbent Ahmadinejad, many officials and experts thought a Mousavi victory would result in only incremental shifts toward the U.S.
Because real power in Tehran is still wielded by religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, some say an Ahmadinejad re-election may make it easier to build an international consensus against Iran.
Administration officials remained silent out of concern that any comments might influence the results. But they were privately hoping for a victory by the more moderate Mousavi.
President Barack Obama’s previous overtures include his recent address in Cairo to the Muslim world as well as, earlier, a televised New Year’s address to the Iranian people and a series of diplomatic contacts. Officials say Obama’s attempts to reach out have gone largely unanswered.
Neither Clinton nor the White House mentioned Ahmadinejad or his chief rival Mousavi, by name, or acknowledged the incumbent’s victory declaration.
Iranian authorities reported that Ahmadinejad was re-elected with 62.6 percent of the vote. He called on the public to respect the vote. But Mousavi, a former prime minister who has become the hero of a youth-driven movement seeking greater liberties and a gentler face for Iran abroad, rejected the results and accused authorities of rigging yesterday’s vote.
Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Saturday that Ahmadinejad’s claim of a victory puts the Obama administration in a tough position.
“I think it’s going to make it incredibly difficult for the Obama administration to acquiesce on Iran’s enrichment of uranium when there is a president in Tehran who continues to deny the Holocaust, and continues to be belligerent toward Israel,” Sadjadpour said. “I don’t see the probability of Ahmadinejad taking a more moderate or conciliatory approach his second time around. Similar to what President Bush said when he was re-elected in 2004, he said, ‘I’ve earned political capital, and now I am going to use it.'”
In brief remarks in Canada, Clinton cited “the enthusiasm and the very vigorous debate and dialogue” in the run-up to the vote. “We obviously hope that the outcome reflects the genuine will and desire of the Iranian people,” she said.
Disappointment in the results was summed up by the Anti-Defamation League, which noted Ahmadinejad’s history of “extremist allegations and attacks” against Jews and Israel as well as the United States
“We are greatly disappointed by the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” the ADL said in a statement. “We had hoped that a different outcome to this election would have sent a message to the international community that Ahmadinejad’s incendiary behavior is not reflective of the beliefs and views of the Iranian people. Unfortunately, the result for Iran is likely to be another four years of extremism and isolation.”
The election focused on what the office of the Iranian president can influence: boosting Iran’s sinking economy, pressing for greater media and political freedoms, and being Iran’s main envoy to the world.
Iran does not allow international election monitors. During the 2005 election, when Ahmadinejad won the presidency, there were some allegations of vote rigging from losers, but the claims were never investigated.