- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 4, 2009

TEHRAN | Iran’s supreme leader formally endorsed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a second term as president Monday in a ceremony that sought to portray unity among the country’s leadership but was snubbed by prominent critics of the disputed election.

After Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave his official seal of approval, he allowed Mr. Ahmadinejad to kiss his robe on his shoulder — a noticeably more restrained gesture than four years ago when Mr. Ahmadinejad kissed the leader’s hand and cheeks in a sign of closeness and loyalty.

An opposition Web site reported clashes in a northern Tehran square between security forces and protesters. It could not immediately be independently confirmed.

The meeting cleared the way for Mr. Ahmadinejad to take the oath of office Wednesday in parliament, where many pro-reform lawmakers have echoed the claims of fraud in the June 12 election.

The ceremony with Ayatollah Khamenei underscored the deep political divides confronting Mr. Ahmadinejad and his backers among the ruling clerics. The event was boycotted by two former presidents — Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami — as well as defeated pro-reform candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, state media reported. Also, no one attended from the family of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Ayatollah Khamenei described the June 12 election as a “golden page” in Iran’s political history and said it was a “vote for the fight against arrogance and brave resistance to the international domination-seekers” — a clear reference to the United States and its allies — according to comments quoted by state TV.

In an exchange that appeared less enthusiastic than the one between the two men four years ago, Mr. Ahmadinejad on Monday appeared to approach Ayatollah Khamenei to kiss his hand, but the leader stopped him. Ayatollah Khamenei then allowed Mr. Ahmadinejad to kiss his robe.

The official state news agency IRNA said Mr. Ahmadinejad had a cold, suggesting this was why he didn’t kiss Ayatollah Khamenei’s hand or cheek.

However, it appeared Ayatollah Khamenei is mindful of the public perceptions over every gesture toward Mr. Ahmadinejad in the supercharged climate after the election and widespread clampdowns on dissent.

An opposition Web site said the elite Revolutionary Guard, its allied Basij militia, riot police and special forces had taken up positions around a number of squares and key roads where protesters were gathering.

Meanwhile, there was no word from Iranian authorities on three Americans detained after reportedly wandering across the border with Iraq last week during a hike in the Iraqi Kurdish region.

One of the missing Americans has been identified by Kurdish authorities as Joshua Fattal, whose family lives in Elkins Park, Pa.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday called on Iran to ensure the safe return of the Americans.

“We want this matter brought to a resolution as soon as possible,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters, according to Agence France-Presse.

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