- The Washington Times - Monday, June 27, 2005

TEHRAN — Iran’s hard-line president-elect, at once defiant and at ease, vowed yesterday to restart the nation’s nuclear energy program and told European negotiators that building trust required a mutual effort.

Asked about relations with the United States during his first press conference since Friday’s election, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran “is taking the path of progress based on self-reliance. It doesn’t need the United States significantly on this path.”

In a sign of tensions likely ahead, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said Mr. Ahmadinejad was “no friend of democracy” and dismissed the vote as a “mock election.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad entered the crowded chambers in Iran’s municipal building with little fanfare, maintaining the unassuming style embraced by the roughly 17 million Iranians who voted him to power in a landslide victory.

He fielded questions confidently and smiled broadly when asked by an Iranian female journalist wearing a colorful head scarf whether he would introduce a strict dress code.

It wasn’t his job to decide, he said.

“I am the president. There are people who make those decisions,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said.

In his opening statement, he promised to shun extremism and cobble together a moderate regime. Yet critics say his election consolidated the hard-liners’ hold on power, and that no reform-minded people remain in the government.

“He is no friend of democracy,” Mr. Rumsfeld said on “Fox News Sunday.” “He is a person who is very much supportive of the current ayatollahs, who are telling the people of that country how to live their lives, and my guess is over time the young people and women will find him, as well as his masters, unacceptable.”

A key concern for the United States is Iran’s 20-year-old nuclear program, revealed in 2002.

The United States thinks the program is aimed at building atomic weapons. Iran insists it is only interested in generating electricity. Uranium enriched to low levels has energy uses, while highly enriched uranium can be used in bombs.

Iran suspended all uranium-enrichment-related activities in November to avoid sanctions from the United Nations Security Council, but it said all along the suspension was temporary. France, Britain and Germany have offered economic incentives in hopes of persuading Iran to halt enrichment permanently.

“Iran’s peaceful technology is the outcome of the scientific achievements of Iran’s youth,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said. “We need the peaceful nuclear technology for energy, medical and agricultural purposes and our scientific progress. We will continue this.”

He said Iran’s decision would not change, but he did not say when the work would resume.

“This is the final path we have taken,” he said.

Concerning Iran’s negotiations with France, Britain and Germany, Mr. Ahmadinejad said he was waiting for specific offers to break the stalemate.

“We will continue talks with Europeans while preserving our national interests and insistence on the right of the Iranian nation to use nuclear energy,” he said. “If there is to be trust-building, then it should be mutual.”

Western leaders have worried that relations with Iran may become increasingly troublesome with Mr. Ahmadinejad, a former Revolutionary Guard commander, as president.

As Tehran mayor, he also served as managing director of a newspaper affiliated with the Tehran municipality. He quickly replaced journalists who defended pro-democracy reforms with hard-line writers. He also replaced most district mayors considered pro-reform.

“We didn’t have a revolution to have a democracy,” he is widely quoted as saying, referring to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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