- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 27, 2009

President Obama on Friday called the postelection crackdown in Iran “outrageous” and flatly refused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s request for an apology. One leading Iranian cleric, meanwhile, called for protest leaders to be executed.

Continuing this week’s harsh rhetoric, Mr. Obama, after meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said “direct dialogue” with Iran will suffer as a result of the beatings and killings of protesters, though he didn’t spell out exact consequences. He said he remains vigilant to see how events play out.

Mrs. Merkel went much further, demanding a recount of the votes and saying the international community must identify the victims and make Iran account for their treatment.

“Despite the government’s efforts to keep the world from bearing witness to that violence, we see it and we con-demn it,” said Mr. Obama, though he continued to say Iran itself must decide the election results. “If the Iranian government desires the respect of the international community, then it must respect the rights - and heed the will - of its people.”

Iran’s Guardian Council, the top legislative body, said it would recount some ballots, though it did not find fault with the June 12 election.

But wire services reported that Ayatollah Ahmed Khatami, a top cleric, said in a nationally televised sermon that those who protest are “worthy of execution.”

Protests broke out after Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister who ran in the elections, challenged the results that showed an overwhelming re-election victory for Mr. Ahmadinejad. Iranian authorities have broken up demonstrations and rallies by force, and videos and images of the crackdown have been seen throughout the world.

Turning to the neighboring hot spot of Iraq, Mr. Obama played down reports of increasing violence ahead of Tuesday’s deadline for U.S. troops to leave Iraqi cities. The president told reporters the security situation there is dramatically better and the key problem is political reconciliation, not violence.

“Iraq’s security situation has continued to dramatically improve,” Mr. Obama said, adding that violence is at “a much, much lower level” now - a recognition of the progress made under the U.S. troop-led surge that began in 2007.

He said the pressure is on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to produce political results, though he said, “I haven’t seen as much political progress in Iraq - negotiations between the Sunni, the Shia, and the Kurds - as I would like to see.”

Mr. Obama also pledged to Mrs. Merkel that the United States is working toward controlling greenhouse-gas emissions and said the bill Democrats were pushing through the House on Friday is only the beginning of efforts.

“There’s going to be more to do,” he said, adding that the United States will have to be clearer about its international obligations.

“I’m the first one to acknowledge that the United States over the last several years has not been where we need to be,” he said. “We’re not going to get there all in one fell swoop.”

Mrs. Merkel refused to get involved in U.S. political wrangling but praised the president, saying she believes he is committed to meeting international calls for the United States to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases.

Much has been made of the two leaders’ relationship. They have disagreed over the pace and style of action on the international financial collapse, and Mrs. Merkel went further than Mr. Obama in criticizing the Iranian regime in the wake of postelection violence.

“Iran can’t count on the world community turning a blind eye,” she said through a translator. Mr. Obama nodded as he listened to the translation.

Mrs. Merkel called the pictures and videos “horrifying scenes” of violence.

“We will not forget this. And let me say that we shall do everything in order to identify the exact number of victims, who those victims were, and how they dealt with those demonstrators,” she said.

Mr. Obama, Mrs. Merkel and the leaders of China, Russia, Britain and France have spent years trying to get Iran to forgo a nuclear weapons program. Mr. Obama took office promising to pursue direct negotiations with Iran if it would help.

But on Friday the president said prospects for diplomacy have changed.

“There is no doubt that any direct dialogue or diplomacy with Iran is going to be affected by the events of the last several weeks. And we don’t yet know how any potential dialogue will have been affected until we see what’s happened inside of Iran,” he said.

While other leaders have been more out front in their criticism, Mr. Obama has taken pains not to appear to meddle in the debate on the actual election results, arguing he doesn’t want his words to become propaganda for the Iranian regime.

“Only I’m the president of the United States, and I’ve got responsibilities in making certain that we are continually advancing our national security interests and that we are not used as a tool to be exploited by other countries,” he said at a press conference Tuesday.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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