- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2009

TEHRAN | Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sworn in for a second term as Iran’s president Wednesday while security forces battled hundreds of protesters chanting “Death to the dictator” in the streets around parliament where the ceremony was held.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, “corrected” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs’ comment Tuesday that Mr. Ahmadinejad is the “elected leader” of Iran.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first to do damage control, saying during a visit to Kenya, “We appreciate and we admire the continuing resistance and ongoing efforts by the reformers to make the changes that the Iranian people deserve.”

Later, Mr. Gibbs said he had made a mistake, and it was up to Iranians to bestow legitimacy on their leaders. “That’s not for me to pass judgment on,” he told reporters.

Still, Mrs. Clinton made clear the administration will deal with Mr. Ahmadinejad if Tehran responds to the repeated U.S. overtures for engagement.

“We take the reality that the person who was inaugurated today will be considered the president,” she said.

Iranian reformers had expressed dismay at the original Gibbs statement, which the Iranian government trumpeted on official media as proof of U.S. recognition.

Key opposition leaders, moderate lawmakers and all three of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s election challengers boycotted the swearing-in ceremony Wednesday. State-run Press TV said more than 5,000 security forces were in the streets around parliament and police with sniffer dogs patrolled the area after the opposition called for demonstrations to coincide with the inauguration.

Some of the protesters wore black T-shirts in a sign of mourning and others wore green - the color of the opposition movement.

The ceremony capped almost two months of the worst political turmoil in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In his inaugural address, Mr. Ahmadinejad demanded that Iran be on an equal footing with other world powers and denounced foreign interference. The government has accused the United States and the West of backing street protests.

“We must play a key role in the management of the world,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said. “We will not remain silent. We will not tolerate disrespect, interference and insults,” he added. “I will spare no effort to safeguard the frontiers of Iran.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad noted that some Western countries - including the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy - did not congratulate him on his election win.

“Some countries have not recognized the elections or extended their congratulations. They do not respect the rights of other nations, yet they recognize themselves as the yardstick for democracy,” he said, without naming specific countries. “Nobody in Iran is waiting for anyone’s congratulations,” he added, to cheers from lawmakers.

Mr. Ahmadinejad did not directly address President Obama’s offer of engagement. But he said: “Iran is a nation of logic, dialogue and constructive interaction. The basis of our foreign policy is wide and constructive contacts with all nations and independent governments based on justice, respect and friendship.”

In contrast to past inauguration ceremonies, former Presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami were absent. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s main opponent Mir Hossein Mousavi and another pro-reform defeated presidential candidate, Mahdi Karroubi, also stayed away.

The only other conservative candidate in the election, Mohsen Rezaei, also was absent.

Staff writer Nicholas Kralev contributed to this report.

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