Wednesday, August 5, 2009

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was “the elected leader” of the Islamic republic despite continuing protests within Iran over the June 12 election.

Mr. Gibbs was asked whether the White House recognized Mr. Ahmadinejad as Iran’s legitimate president.

“This was a decision and a debate ongoing in Iran by Iranians, they were going to choose their leadership,” Mr. Gibbs said. “He’s the elected leader.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s opponents say he stole the election. There have been massive street demonstrations - Iran’s worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution of 1979 - that have shaken the regime and divided its political elite. At least 30 demonstrators have been killed and hundreds have been arrested.

The White House had been careful not to comment on the legitimacy of the election and has condemned the Iranian government for its crackdown on demonstrators, but has said that its offer to talk to Iran about its nuclear program remains on the table.

The United States’ European allies have also taken a cautious approach to the election results and violent aftermath.

British officials said Tuesday that Prime Minister Gordon Brown would not congratulate Mr. Ahmadinejad, according to Reuters news agency.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is due to take the oath of office before parliament Wednesday.

The British Foreign Office said that after informal coordination between EU embassies in Tehran, Britain would send its ambassador to the ceremony.

Britain sent its No. 2 in Tehran, Patrick Davies, instead of Ambassador Simon Gass when Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed Mr. Ahmadinejad’s second term Monday.

A Foreign Office spokesman said it was not “business as usual” with Iran, but Britain wanted to address important issues with Tehran and to do this “communication channels have to be open.”

In Iran, opposition groups called for protesters to prepare for a new round of street demonstrations to coincide with Mr. Ahmadinejad’s inauguration.

The appeals - carried on reformist Web sites and blogs - showed a willingness by protesters to confront the massive security operation expected outside parliament and other areas of the capital during the swearing-in formalities, the Associated Press reported.

Another cause for opposition anger is a mass trial scheduled to resume Thursday for more than 100 people, including many prominent reformist activists and political figures. They are accused of encouraging the protests and challenging the Islamic system.

In a possible move to address the discord, Iranian authorities said Tuesday that they would bring charges against officials, including security forces and judicial members, accused of abusing civilians during the unrest.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s main conservative challenger Mohsen Rezaei, who served as commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guard, has led the demands for high-level probes into abuses. On Tuesday, he warned that Iran could be moving toward a “religious dictatorship” if the ruling establishment tried to cling to power at all costs, according to a speech posted on reformist Web sites.

The son of Mr. Rezaei’s top aide, Abdolhossein Rouhalamini, was arrested during a July 9 protest and taken to a hospital two weeks later where he died within hours.

Iran’s most senior dissident cleric, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, also compared the mass trial and several public confessions to the tactics of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and other authoritarian rulers.

“Why they do such things that the people compare their courts to Stalin’s, Saddam’s and other dictators’ courts and trials?” said Ayatollah Montazeri in a statement posted on his Web site, Agence France-Presse reported.

The 88-year-old senior cleric was once tipped to succeed the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, but he fell from grace in the late 1980s after condemning the regime’s treatment of its critics.

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