- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 14, 2009

VIENNA, Austria | A world wary of Iran’s nuclear program reacted cautiously Saturday to hard-line leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hotly disputed re-election. Some expressed hope that the Islamic republic’s president will soften his defiance and warm to recent U.S. overtures.

For the volatile Middle East and the West alike, the stakes are high.

Iran is a key economic player in the region, a perceived threat to Israel’s national security - and a major worry for the U.S. and allies who fear Tehran is trying to build an atomic weapon.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s announced landslide victory over his reformist opponent, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, in a tumultuous election marred by allegations of widespread fraud, “will increase American pressure” to engage Iran diplomatically, said Eyal Zisser, an analyst with the Tel Aviv-based Moshe Dayan Center.

Alluding to opposition allegations that the outcome was rigged, and clashes that erupted across Iran after Mr. Ahmadinejad’s government declared him the victor, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she hoped the outcome reflects the “genuine will and desire” of Iranian voters.

Mrs. Clinton spoke at an event in Niagara Falls, Ontario, with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, who said his country also was “deeply concerned” by reports of irregularities.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the Obama administration is keeping close watch on the election process, “including reports of irregularities.” He said the White House was impressed “by the vigorous debate and enthusiasm that this election generated, particularly among young Iranians.”

Hadi Ghaemi, spokesman for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, denounced the outcome as “a Tehran Tiananmen” - a reference to China’s brutal 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy activists - and urged the international community not to recognize the result.

President Obama has offered a dialogue with Iran after a nearly 30-year diplomatic freeze between the two nations. Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and geared solely toward generating electricity; U.S. officials contend it’s trying to enrich uranium to weapons grade.

Privately, many diplomats at the International Atomic Energy Agency - the Vienna, Austria-based U.N. nuclear watchdog - said they expected little change regardless of who wound up in charge of Iran’s government.

That is because Iran’s main policies and any major decisions, such as possible talks with Washington or nuclear policies, rest with the ruling clerics headed by Iran’s unelected supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

However, former President Jimmy Carter said more of Mr. Ahmadinejad spells less change in Iran.

“I don’t think it will have any real effect because the same person will be there as has been there,” Mr. Carter said after meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “I think this election has brought out a lot of opposition to his policies in Iran, and I’m sure he’ll listen to those opinions and hopefully moderate his position.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad has outraged Israelis and many others worldwide by publicly challenging the Jewish state’s right to exist.

“The re-election of Ahmadinejad demonstrates the increasing Iranian threat,” said Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa said he hoped Mr. Ahmadinejad’s second term would boost cooperation to achieve peace and rid the region of weapons of mass destruction. “I believe the situation could move in the direction of quieter talks and understanding. Dialogue is the name of the game,” he said.

In Iraq, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said: “We hope that the new term of the Iranian president will begin a period of reconciliation with all countries that have no friendly relations with it.”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez - a frequent critic of U.S. foreign policy - rushed to declare his support for the incumbent. “In President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad we have one of the greatest allies on this earth,” Mr. Chavez said at an oil summit in the Caribbean.

Syrian President Bashar Assad congratulated Mr. Ahmadinejad and “expressed his confidence in continuing friendly relations and strengthening cooperation,” Syria’s official news agency reported.

Dawood al-Shirian, a prominent Saudi columnist, said Mr. Ahmadinejad’s victory was no surprise.

“This reminds me of [George W.] Bush’s second victory at the polls,” he said. “The Iranians feel they are under regional and international threat and therefore they do not want change at this time.”

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