- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Iran’s election oversight body Monday declared the hotly disputed presidential vote to be valid after a partial recount, rejecting opposition allegations of fraud and further silencing calls for a new vote.

State television reported that the Guardian Council presented the conclusion in a letter to the interior minister after a recount of what was described as a randomly selected 10 percent of the almost 40 million ballots cast June 12.

The “meticulous and comprehensive examination” revealed only “slight irregularities that are common to any election and needless of attention,” Guardian Council head Ahmed Jannati said in a letter, according to the state TV channel IRIB.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi claims he, not incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was the rightful winner and has called for a new election, something the government has repeatedly said it will not do. “From today on, the file on the presidential election has been closed,” Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei said on state-run Press TV.

Tabnak, an Iranian Web site close to defeated conservative candidate Mohsen Rezaie, said results in more than 50 polling districts all showed votes in multiples of 10, a statistical anomaly.

One defeated reformist candidate said an annulment of the poll was “the only way to regain the people’s trust.”

Pro-reform cleric Mehdi Karoubi, fourth in the official count, reiterated his call for the vote to be annulled in a letter to the Guardian Council, Reuters news agency reported.

Mousavi supporters have taken to the streets in protest after the election, outraged by official results that gave Mr. Ahmadinejad the victory by a roughly 2-to-1 margin. Police and the feared Basij militia have taken increasingly harsh measures against the demonstrators, prompting widespread international criticism.

The recount conducted Monday had appeared to be an attempt to cultivate the image that Iran was seriously addressing fraud claims, while giving no ground in the clampdown on opposition. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the council already had pronounced the results free of major fraud and insisted that Mr. Ahmadinejad won by a landslide. And even if errors were found in nearly every one of the votes in the recount Mr. Ahmadinejad, according to the government’s count, still would have tallied more votes than Mr. Mousavi.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday questioned the recount’s utility.

“They have a huge credibility gap with their own people as to the election process. And I don’t think that’s going to disappear by any finding of a limited review of a relatively small number of ballots,” she told reporters in Washington. Asked whether the United States would recognize Mr. Ahmadinejad as Iran’s legitimate president, she said, “We’re going to take this a day at a time.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad on Monday ordered an investigation of the killing of a young woman on the fringes of a protest. Widely circulated video footage of Neda Agha Soltan bleeding to death on a Tehran street sparked outrage worldwide over authorities’ harsh response to demonstrations.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s Web site said Miss Soltan was slain by “unknown agents and in a suspicious” way, convincing him that “enemies of the nation” were responsible.

Tensions escalated Sunday when Iran announced it had detained nine local employees of the British Embassy on suspicion of fomenting or aiding protests. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi said Monday that five of the Iranian Embassy staffers had been released and the remaining four were being interrogated.

Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseini Ejehi on Monday claimed he had videotape showing some of the employees mingling with protesters, and said the fate of those who remain in custody now rests with the court system in a country where Ayatollah Khamenei’s word is law.

Mr. Qashqavi said officials were in contact with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and that Iran had dismissed the idea of downgrading relations, saying, “Reduction of diplomatic ties is not on our agenda for any country, including Britain.”

The statement did not mollify Britain, whose Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday that Iran’s actions were “unacceptable, unjustified and without foundation.”

Meanwhile, U.S. ambassador in Iraq, Christopher Hill, said the U.S. has no imminent plans to resume talks with Iran about Iraq. He said Iran is still trying to exert a “malevolent influence” over its neighboring country but that he was hopeful Iraqis aren’t responding.

• Mehdi Jedinia contributed to this report from Washington.

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