By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 19, 2009
TEHRAN, June 18 -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's top political aide said Thursday that the United States will regret its "interference" in Iran's disputed election.
The aide, Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, said in an interview that President Obama's comments this week about street demonstrations in Tehran and other Iranian cities will "make things harder" if the Obama administration attempts to engage Iran in talks over nuclear and other issues.
"I hope in the case of the elections they realize their interference is a mistake, and that they don't repeat this mistake. They'll certainly regret this. They'll have problems reestablishing relations with Iran," he said.
Samareh Hashemi is one of Ahmadinejad's closest confidants, a friend from their university days who was the Iranian president's senior adviser until six weeks ago, when he resigned from his government post to manage Ahmadinejad's reelection campaign.
His remarks are the clearest indication of how Ahmadinejad, who has spoken little since the election last Friday, views the demonstrations and what effect they may have on his policies if his electoral victory is upheld.
Obama has repeatedly denied that the United States is "meddling" in Iranian politics, and he has been criticized in Washington for not speaking out more forcefully on behalf of the Iranian demonstrators who contend the election was stolen.
But in an interview with CNBC on Tuesday, Obama said that "when you've got 100,000 people who are out on the streets peacefully protesting, and they're having to be scattered through violence and gunshots, what that tells me is the Iranian people are not convinced of the legitimacy of the election. And my hope is that the regime responds not with violence, but with a recognition that the universal principles of peaceful expression and democracy are ones that should be affirmed."
Samareh Hashemi seemed to take particular umbrage at Obama's reference to democracy. The United States and some European nations, he said, have "supported the street unrest. They even called it a democratic event."
Asked why he did not consider the demonstrations to be democratic, he said: "A protest that has a permit and is not destructive to the public is a democratic action. But, unfortunately, some Western governments have supported unrest and hooliganism."
Obama pledged during last year's U.S. presidential campaign to seek talks with Iran, and he has reiterated that in recent days.
But Samareh Hashemi said Obama "is following Mr. Bush's path."
"When they're talking about establishing trust, they need to take steps to gain Iran's trust and not steps to demolish Iranian trust," he said. "Changing the rhetoric will not solve the problem."
Samareh Hashemi described popular support for Mir Hossein Mousavi, the second-highest vote-getter, as confined to a few big cities. Ahmadinejad, he maintained, is enormously popular across most of the country because of his policies, including his confrontational approach to the West.
"Anyone you ask can list a number of things that benefited them from Mr. Ahmadinejad's government," he said. "After all, Iranians witnessed Iran become nuclear. Iran joined the club of satellite-launching nations."
The presidential aide also dismissed the possibility that the election results will be invalidated. "It would be an insult to the 40 million who voted," he said.
"As far as I know, there hasn't been any proof of fraud reported. Some boxes may be recounted, but the difference between votes is so high that I doubt the elections would be canceled altogether. But of course, it's up to the Guardian Council to decide," he said.
Offering a long list of achievements by the government, he explained that extensive trips to Iran's remote provinces, an increase in wages and pensions, free health insurance for the poor and the successes in Iran's nuclear and satellite programs had empowered a class ignored by previous governments.
He said the opposition, based in Tehran, could not see beyond it.
"They created high expectations amongst their supporters," he added. "Once they saw that they weren't victorious, they claimed there was fraud. In reality, they set up their own supporters in their own propaganda trap."