AFP: The United States said Monday it was “deeply troubled” by the disqualification of reformist presidential candidates in Iran, and vowed to stand by the Iranian people in fighting for democracy. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice led a strong attack on Tehran after the its hardline clergy barred more than 1,000 would-be contenders from the June 17 poll, leaving the field open to a handful of conservatives.
WASHINGTON – The United States said Monday it was “deeply troubled” by the disqualification of reformist presidential candidates in Iran, and vowed to stand by the Iranian people in fighting for democracy.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice led a strong attack on Tehran after the its hardline clergy barred more than 1,000 would-be contenders from the June 17 poll, leaving the field open to a handful of conservatives.
“The Middle East is changing, and even the unelected leaders in Tehran must recognize this fact,” Rice told a conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
“They must know that the energy of reform that is building all around them will one day inspire Iran’s citizens to demand their liberty and their rights,” she said. “The United States stands with the people of Iran.”
Her spokesman Richard Boucher later lashed out at the move by Iran’s Guardians Council to invalidate all but six of a record 1,014 hopefuls seeking to succeed incumbent reformist President Mohammad Khatami.
“Certainly, we’re deeply troubled by a decision like this,” he said. “Today’s disqualifications are clearly intended to ensure that only those completely acceptable to the hardline regime are presented to the electorate.”
Boucher said the council was “doing a great disservice” to Iran, adding, “The hopes and dreams of the Iranian people have gone sadly unfulfilled, but their aspirations for a better and freer Iran remain.”
The spokesman had little reaction to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s order to the hardliners on Monday to review the disqualifications for fear of triggering a poll boycott.
“I suppose we’ll see what’s meant by these latest remarks,” Boucher said. He recalled that moves to bar thousands of candidates from parliamentary elections last year were upheld, resulting in what he called a “deeply flawed” vote.
The United States has long been critical of Iran on several fronts, branding it part of an “axis of evil” bent on acquiring nuclear arms. Rice on Monday again blasted Tehran as “the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.”
Her pledge to stand by the Iranian people in their struggle for democratic reform echoed the vow made by President George W. Bush in his State of the Union address in February.
The US criticism of Iran’s electoral process echoed the position taken earlier by the European Union.
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, whose country holds the EU presidency, said it was “very disappointed” by the Guardians Council decision to exclude reformists from the presidential race.
The latest polemics over Iran’s electoral process came as ministers from France, Germany and Britain prepared for what could be a last-ditch effort to persuade Tehran to drop its suspected nuclear weapons program.
The United States has supported the talks while signaling that it might take the matter to the United Nations if the European initiative fails.
“The world must not tolerate any Iranian attempt to develop a nuclear weapon,” Rice said Monday.