Biden has 'doubts' over Iran election

Top officials tell NY Times that alleged election fraud won't hamper the US willingness for dialogue.

Iran riots fire 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Iran riots fire 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Vice President Joe Biden said Sunday he had doubts about whether Iran's presidential election was free and fair, though the US must accept "for the time being" Teheran's claim that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a resounding re-election. He said the Obama administration's interests regarding Iran were the same as before the disputed vote: persuading Teheran to stop development of a nuclear weapon and end its support for terrorism. The US is trying to understand whether the vote accurately reflected Iranians' response to President Barack Obama's effort to open a dialogue after a nearly 30-year diplomatic freeze, Biden said during an interview on NBC television's "Meet the Press." "That's the question," Biden said, adding: "Is this the result of the Iranian people's wishes? The hope is that the Iranian people all their votes have been counted, they've been counted fairly. But look, we just don't know enough" since Friday's vote. While Ahmadinejad insisted the results showing his landslide victory were fair and legitimate, Biden simply said, "You know I have doubts." "It sure looks like the way they're suppressing speech, the way they're suppressing crowds, the way in which people are being treated, that there's some real doubt about that," Biden said. "I don't think we're in a position to say. What surprised me in that the assertion that he won by what 60 some percent of the vote, and so I think we have to wait and see. But it didn't seem on its face to be as clear cut." The vice president tried to follow a careful line, however, given the administration's attempts to engage Iran. Asked about recognizing Ahmadinejad's claim of victory over rival Mir Hossein Mousavi, Biden said, "We have to accept that for the time being. But there's an awful lot of questions about how this election was run. And we'll see. We're just waiting to see. We don't have enough facts to make a firm judgment." He acknowledged the US was disturbed by the Iranian government's suppression of free speech and its crackdown on crowds protesting Ahmadinejad's re-election. On Saturday, the New York Times quoted US officials as saying that despite suspicions of irregularities in Ahmadinejad's election victory, the Obama administration was still determined to proceed with efforts to hold dialogue with the Islamic republic, One senior administration official even said the internal pressure on Ahmadinejad may speed up engagement with the West. "Ahmadinejad could feel that because of public pressure, he wants to reduce Iran's isolation," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "That might also cause engagement to proceed more swiftly." "The administration will deal with the situation we have, not what we wish it to be," said another senior official quoted by the paper. "In the end, there's an imperative to try to establish engagement," said another. "We would certainly give them time," he added, provided that Iran did not use the time to work toward a nuclear bomb. Another senior administration official said that although the US would have been happier with a victory for Ahmadinejad's main election challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, in terms of policy, there was not much difference between the two. "It would be nice to have an environment without the kind of vitriol we see from Ahmadinejad," he said. "There clearly would be differences in tone between Ahmadinejad and Moussavi, but not necessarily in policy." Another top official said that "the administration will deal with the situation we have, not what we wish it to be." Nevertheless, Thomas R. Pickering, a former under secretary of state, was more pessimistic over the Ahmadinejad's re-election. "This is the worst result," he told the Times. "The US will have to worry about being perceived as pandering to a president whose legitimacy is in question. It clearly makes the notion of providing incentives quite unappetizing." US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Saturday that she hoped the outcome reflects the "genuine will and desire" of Iranian voters. 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 spokesman, Robert Gibbs said the US was closely monitoring the situation, but another official was quoted by the Times as saying, "there's no reason to think the regime is not in control."