U.S. Affirms Ahmadinejad As Iran’s ‘Elected Leader,’ Despite Disputed Election

By Patrick Goodenough | August 5, 2009 | 5:18 AM EDT

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivers his inauguration speech to parliament during his swearing-in ceremony for a second term as president, in Tehran on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2009. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

(CNSNews.com) – Despite deep misgivings about the conduct of Iran’s presidential election and subsequent clampdown on opposition supporters, Western governments, including the U.S. and Britain, look set to recognize -- and seek to engage with -- the president whose re-election was so controversial.
Setting the tone, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, asked Tuesday whether the administration recognizes Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran’s legitimate president, replied, “He’s the elected leader.”
“[President Obama] has discussed our goals for reaching out in order to ensure that they don’t develop a nuclear weapons program,” Gibbs told reporters. “Those continue to be our goals.”
In separate comments, Gibbs said he did not believe the administration would send a letter of congratulation.
“We heard that some of the Western leaders had decided to recognize but not congratulate the new government,” Ahmadinejad told Iranian lawmakers as he was sworn in for a second four-year term Wednesday.
“Well, no-one in Iran is waiting for your messages. Iranians will neither value your scowling and bullying nor your smiles and greetings.”
Wednesday’s ceremony in parliament came more than seven weeks after the disputed presidential election sparked the most significant street protests in decades. On Monday, he was formally endorsed as president by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Both events were boycotted by leading opposition figures, including the influential cleric and former president Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the opposition contender whose loss to Ahmadinejad was widely attributed to vote-rigging.
They were not joined in their symbolic stayaway by Western diplomats.
A little over a month ago, European Union member state were considering withdrawing their ambassadors from Tehran as a “strong and collective E.U. response” to the arrests of nine Iranians employed at the British Embassy who were accused of links to the protests. The regime accused Britain in particular of trying to sabotage the election, saying agents had infiltrated Iran ahead of the poll posing as tourists. 

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad surrounded by lawmakers and media at the conclusion of his swearing-in ceremony for second term as president, in Tehran on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2009. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

This week, however, just days after Tehran began trials of more than 100 dissidents, many European diplomats were present as Khamenei endorsed Ahmadinejad, and again as he was sworn in.
They were led by Swedish ambassador to Iran Magnus Wernstedt, whose country holds the E.U.’s rotating presidency.
As the country most targeted for Tehran’s vitriol during the post-election turmoil, Britain was expected to make a symbolic gesture.
But its decision to send the deputy head of the British mission rather than the ambassador to Monday’s ceremony – characterized by the Foreign Office as one intended to send a message – backfired at home. Both main opposition parties, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, questioned the wisdom of sending such a senior diplomat, The Times of London reported on Tuesday.
Despite the criticism, Britain was reportedly sending its ambassador to Wednesday’s swearing-in. A Foreign Office spokeswoman said Britain would not send a message of congratulation. The French and German governments also said there would be no customary letters of congratulation. The three leading E.U. countries have for years spearheaded efforts to negotiate an end to the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program.
Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso did send a letter of congratulations to Ahmadinejad, according to the official IRNA news agency. It said Aso voiced the hope that during his second term Iran would “play a worthy role in the peace and security of the world and the region.”
Other Western governments which sent ambassadors or senior diplomats to the events in Tehran on Monday and Wednesday included Italy, whose foreign minister, Franco Frattini, earlier explained the decision not to boycott by saying, “we must speak with those who we do not agree.”
Germany sent a low-level diplomat while the Netherlands stayed away from Monday’s event and sent its embassy number two to Wednesday’s swearing-in.
Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen told lawmakers in a letter this week that a “normal” presence at the ceremonies could be interpreted as “an endorsement of the current situation” in Iran. He said those E.U. countries that have decided to participate fully believed that direct communication links must be kept open.
In contrast to Gibbs’ comment recognizing Ahmadinejad as “elected leader,” a French foreign ministry spokesman responded to the same question in Paris on Monday by replying simply that France “recognize[s] states, not governments.”
Opposition supporters gathered in the vicinity of the parliament building in central Tehran during Wednesday’s swearing-in. More than 5,000 security force members and policemen were deployed in the area, Iran’s Press TV reported.
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow