Reuters: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused Barack Obama on Thursday of behaving like his predecessor toward Iran and said there was not much point in talking to Washington unless the U.S. president apologized.
By Parisa Hafezi and Fredrik Dahl
TEHRAN (Reuters) – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused Barack Obama on Thursday of behaving like his predecessor toward Iran and said there was not much point in talking to Washington unless the U.S. president apologized.
(EDITORS' NOTE: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on their ability to report, film or take pictures in Tehran.)
Obama said on Tuesday he was "appalled and outraged" by a post-election crackdown and Washington withdrew invitations to Iranian diplomats to attend Independence Day celebrations on July 4 — stalling efforts to improve ties with Tehran.
"Mr Obama made a mistake to say those things … our question is why he fell into this trap and said things that previously (former president George W.) Bush used to say," the semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
"Do you want to speak with this tone? If that is your stance then what is left to talk about … I hope you avoid interfering in Iran's affairs and express your regret in a way that the Iranian nation is informed of it," he said.
The world's fifth biggest oil exporter has crushed anti-government protests, flooding the streets of Tehran with police and militia to quell the most widespread unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
About 20 people have been killed in protests after Ahmadinejad was re-elected in a disputed June 12 poll which opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi says was rigged.
In what appeared to be further evidence of the government's determination to crush resistance, 70 professors were detained after meeting Mousavi and his campaign manager was arrested, his website said. Fars said the professors were later released.
Mousavi said he was under pressure to stop challenging the election result and also complained about the closure of his Kalameh-ye Sabz daily newspaper and arrest of its staff.
Iran has jailed around 40 journalists and media workers in the post-election crackdown, New York-based media watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Thursday.
The row over the election has exposed an unprecedented public rift within Iran's ruling elite.
With street protests fading, analysts say the battle has moved off the street into a behind-the-scenes struggle which has divided the clerical establishment into two camps.
Mousavi has the backing of such influential figures as former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, along with senior cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who normally stays above the political fray, has sided strongly with Ahmadinejad.
"Neither side can claim victory now," said an analyst in Tehran, who declined to be named. "This path is very corrosive. Both sides are tired."
"What the system needs is to have some mediators, who can convince both sides to agree over a middle way," he said.
Khamenei has upheld the result and Iran's top legislative body, the Guardian Council, has refused to annul the elections. State Press TV quoted a spokesman for the council as saying they were "among the healthiest elections ever held in the country."
Mousavi said he was determined to keep challenging the election results despite pressure to stop.
"A major rigging has happened," his website reported him as saying. "I am prepared to prove that those behind the rigging are responsible for the bloodshed."
He called on his supporters to continue "legal" protests and said restrictions on the opposition could lead to more violence.
Mousavi supporters said they would release thousands of balloons on Friday imprinted with the message "Neda you will always remain in our hearts" — a reference to the young woman killed last week who has become an icon of the protests.
Obama had previously been muted in his criticism.
But on Tuesday he said that, "the United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days."
Before the election, Obama had tried to improve ties with Iran — branded by Bush as part of an "axis of evil."
Washington had been hoping to convince Tehran to drop what it suspects are plans to develop nuclear bombs, while also seeking its cooperation in stabilizing Afghanistan and Iraq.
It had invited Iranian diplomats to attend Independence Day celebrations for the first time since Washington cut diplomatic ties with Tehran in 1980. The move to withdraw the invites was largely symbolic as no Iranians had even responded.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said it was wrong to blame the outside world for the troubles in Iran.
"I think the truth is that there is a crisis of credibility between the Iranian government and their own people. It's not a crisis between Iran and America or Iran and Britain, however much the Iranian government wants to suggest that," he said.
Group of Eight powers were divided on how to respond to Iran's disputed election on Thursday, with hosts Italy pushing for a strong condemnation of violence and Russia calling the vote "an exercise in democracy."
"We are working on a document that should condemn the violence and the repression and at the same time stress that electoral procedures are an (internal) Iranian matter," said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.
But he cautioned: "We (the international community) can't recount the vote." The statement is expected on Friday.
(Additional reporting by Zahra Hosseinian and Hossein Jaseb; Writing by Myra MacDonald; Editing by Peter Millership)