Iran General NewsBritish envoy Simon Gass to attend Ahmadinejad’s swearing-in despite...

British envoy Simon Gass to attend Ahmadinejad’s swearing-in despite election turmoil

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ImageThe Times: Britain is to send its ambassador in Tehran to attend the President’s swearing-in ceremony today despite the regime’s brutal suppression of the opposition since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was named the winner of an election widely seen as fraudulent.

The Times

Martin Fletcher

ImageBritain is to send its ambassador in Tehran to attend the President’s swearing-in ceremony today despite the regime’s brutal suppression of the opposition since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was named the winner of an election widely seen as fraudulent.

The White House went even farther last night. Asked whether President Obama recognised Mr Ahmadinejad's presidency, Robert Gibbs, the spokesman, said that he was the “elected leader” of Iran.

The British envoy, Simon Gass, will attend the ceremony in parliament even though opposition leaders are expected to boycott it and Iranians are likely to be protesting outside. The regime has accused Britain of fomenting the unrest and arrested Iranians working for the embassy.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office justified Mr Gass’s presence by saying that the Government needed to remain engaged with the regime on key issues including Iran’s nuclear programme and its human rights record.

Acknowledging concerns that Britain would be conferring recognition on Mr Ahmadinejad, a spokesman said that Gordon Brown had not sent him the customary congratulations letter. Which other ambassadors attend the ceremony remains to be seen, but the leaders of Germany, France and the US also said that they would not be sending congratulations.

William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, said: “When hundreds of Iranians are either in prison or facing mass trials on trumped-up charges, and many ordinary citizens have lost their lives . . . the Foreign Office should have decided to send a lower-ranking embassy official rather than be seen to endorse President Ahmadinejad.”

The Foreign Office had already caused controversy by sending its deputy head of mission in Tehran, Patrick Davies, to Monday’s ceremony at which Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, formally endorsed Mr Ahmadinejad’s re-election. Iran’s opposition is calling for a million people to converge on the Majlis (parliament) in Baharestan Square at 9am today to protest against Mr Ahmadinejad’s re-election. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, the defeated candidates, are expected to boycott the ceremony, as are the former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

“The system will be there in full force. They will basically demolish the protesters,” said a Tehran analyst.

Today is a day of high symbolism, however, and the opposition has been emboldened by splits in the regime. Its anger has also been fanned by the show trial — and “confessions” — of more than 100 moderates that began last Saturday and resumes tomorrow.

“Despite all the hardship, we will continue our path to fight against the result [of the election],” Zahra Rahnavard, Mr Mousavi’s wife, said.

In the next fortnight Mr Ahmadinejad must name his Cabinet, and he may struggle to have his nominees confirmed in a divided parliament. Three times in the past two weeks, more than 200 of the 290 MPs have signed letters criticising the President.

Making matters more difficult for President Ahmadinejad, the oil revenues that he lavished on favoured constituencies have dried up amid the economic downturn. He has cancelled trips to Libya and Egypt, suggesting that his stature abroad has suffered.

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