Iran's President Rebukes Obama; Candidates Reject Election Review

By Thomas Erdbrink and William Branigin
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 28, 2009

TEHRAN, June 27 -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad added new fuel to an intensifying spat with President Obama on Saturday, denouncing what he called "insulting" comments about a crackdown on protesters, and two opposition presidential candidates rejected participation in a special committee aimed at resolving the disputed June 12 election on the government's terms.

In televised remarks to judiciary officials Saturday, Ahmadinejad struck back at Obama a day after the U.S. president praised protesters for showing "bravery in the face of brutality," described violence against them as "outrageous" and said opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has "captured the imagination" of Iranians who want a more open society. Obama also dismissed Ahmadinejad's demand for an apology for previous criticism and suggested that the Iranian leader apologize to the families of those who have been arrested, beaten or killed in the crackdown.

Noting that Obama has spoken of "reforms and changes," Ahmadinejad asked, "Why did he interfere and comment in a way that disregards convention and courtesy?" He said Western leaders who made "insulting and irrelevant comments will be put on a fair trial" by Iran at international gatherings.

"It is enough," he said. "Do not disgrace yourself further by such language and behavior."

Ahmadinejad also vowed to take a tougher approach toward alleged meddling by the West during his second four-year term, which the government has said will begin this summer.

"Without a doubt, Iran's new government will have a more decisive and firmer approach toward the West," Ahmadinejad said. "This time the Iranian nation's reply will be harsh and more decisive," to make the West regret its "meddlesome stance," he said.

Iran's Interior Ministry has proclaimed Ahmadinejad the winner of the election with nearly 63 percent of the vote, followed by Mousavi with less than 34 percent. Mousavi, 67, who served as prime minister for eight years in the 1980s, has charged that massive fraud "reversed" the results, cheating him of victory, and his supporters have staged a series of street protests to back his demand that the election be annulled and a new one held.

Iranian authorities, including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have ruled out a new vote and declared the demonstrations illegal. Security forces have been deployed to break up protests with clubs, tear gas, arrests and, on at least two occasions, gunfire.

The Foreign Ministry also reacted sharply Saturday to criticism from the Group of Eight world powers, whose foreign ministers met in the past week in Trieste, Italy. The representatives of the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia said Friday that "we deplore post-electoral violence, which led to the loss of lives of Iranian civilians . . . and urge Iran to respect fundamental human rights." However, the statement stopped short of questioning the election results.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman denounced the G-8 statement as "interfering and hasty."

According to state-run media, at least 17 people have been killed and 100 injured in post-election violence. Press TV, an English-language version of state television, has quoted unidentified sources as saying 20 have been killed, including eight members of the pro-government Basij militia. There has been no independent confirmation of the reports.

In the latest attempt to resolve the electoral dispute, the Guardian Council, a body that oversees elections, created a "special committee" to review the results and invited participation by Mousavi and another opposition candidate, Mehdi Karroubi. The council said 10 percent of the ballot boxes would be recounted in the presence of the committee and gave the two candidates 24 hours to name their representatives.

Mousavi and Karroubi rejected the offer Saturday, saying that the committee would not be independent and that the scope of the review would not be broad enough.

"Reaching a just judgment is not within the domain of the Guardian Council and, above all, a board which is appointed by this council," Mousavi said on his campaign Web site, according to a translation by Agence France-Presse. "I insist again on canceling the election as the most suitable way out of the problem."

He said that limiting the recount to 10 percent of the ballot boxes "cannot attract people's trust and convince public opinion about the results."

Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, a top Mousavi campaign official, confirmed in a telephone interview that Mousavi would not send a representative to the committee.

Morteza Alviri, a representative of Karroubi, said in an interview that the proposed committee would be biased, because five of the six announced members share Ahmadinejad's political philosophy, and some had even campaigned for him.

He also questioned the plan to recount a small portion of the ballot boxes. "The problem is, we don't trust the ballot boxes anymore," he said, adding that in the two weeks since the election, the Ahmadinejad government has had ample time to tamper with the boxes.

Alviri said the opposition wants a "committee formed of unbiased and independent members" with full authority to reach decisions that would be binding on the Guardian Council.

"We will not participate" in the special committee, he said. "We will not send a representative, because we have problems with the makeup of the committee and the scope of its activities." He said any review committee "should be able to investigate the whole election from beginning to end," covering such issues as the initial vetting of candidates by the Guardian Council and the alleged use of government resources by the Ahmadinejad campaign.

"Our duty is to safeguard the people's votes," Alviri said of the opposition's objective at this point. "People on the street stop us and tell us that if you don't get our votes back, you have betrayed us. And we are not going to betray the people."

Branigin reported from Washington. Special correspondent Kay Armin Serjoie in Tehran contributed to this report.

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