Iran General NewsBush: Iranian leader's past will draw scrutiny

Bush: Iranian leader’s past will draw scrutiny

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AFP: US President George W. Bush said Thursday that the charge that Iran’s hardline president-elect was a key player in the dramatic 1979 takeover of the US embassy in Tehran “raises many questions.”
Five survivors of the 444-day siege of the embassy have said they remember seeing Ahmadinejad, while Iranian veterans of the embassy standoff have denied that the hardliner was involved. AFP

by Olivier Knox

WASHINGTON – US President George W. Bush said Thursday that the charge that Iran’s hardline president-elect was a key player in the dramatic 1979 takeover of the US embassy in Tehran “raises many questions.”

Five survivors of the 444-day siege of the embassy have said they remember seeing Ahmadinejad, while Iranian veterans of the embassy standoff have denied that the hardliner was involved.

“I have no information” to confirm or refute the allegation, Bush said. “But obviously his involvement raises many questions, and knowing how active people are at finding answers to questions, I’m confident they’ll be found.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that the president, who had been speaking to four news organization including AFP, was referring to Ahmadinejad’s “reported involvement” and was not confirming the accusation.

McClellan said Washington was “looking into the facts” behind the charge but denied any formal investigation.

Ahmadinejad, 49, trounced moderate cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in the second round run-off of Friday’s presidential vote to record the greatest upset in Iranian political history. Washington deemed the elections illegitimate.

A veteran of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Ahmadinejad was a founding member of the Office for Strengthening Unity Between Universities and Theological Seminaries (OSU), which organized the storming of the embassy compound, according to the Washington Times.

Retired army colonel Charles Scott, a former hostage, told the Washington Times newspaper “The new president of Iran is a terrorist.”

“As soon as I saw his picture in the paper, I knew that was the bastard … He was one of the top two or three leaders,” said the 73-year-old who lives in Jonesboro, Georgia.

Others among the dozens of Americans held at the embassy in the Iranian capital have also said they remembered Ahmadinejad.

Some 90 people inside the embassy compound were taken hostage. Fifty-two remained in captivity for 444 days until January 20, 1981, when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as US president.

Donald Sharer, a retired Navy captain who was for a time a cellmate of Scott at the Evin prison in northern Tehran, remembered Ahmadinejad as “a hard-liner, a cruel individual.”

In an interview with CNN television, Sharer recalled an incident when Ahmadinejad “just called Colonel Scott and myself ‘pigs and dogs’ and said we deserved to be locked up forever.

“When you’re placed in a life threatening situation of that manner, you remember those things.”

So far five former hostages out of 52 who remained in captivity the whole 444 days have said they remember Ahmadinejad.

“Mr Ahmadinejad was never one of students following the path of the imam that took the spy den (US embassy). He was never there,” Mohsen Mirdamadi, an ex-hostage taker who went on to become a member of parliament, told AFP.

He told AFP that a picture circulating on the Internet and the printed media portraying a thickly bearded hostage-taker leading out a blindfolded American hostage did not show Ahmadinejad.

Abbas Abdi, who like Mirdamadi is regarded as one of the instigators of the embassy seizure, also fiercely denied that Ahmadinejad had anything to do with the operation.

“I say again: No Sir, he was not one of them. What I say is very clear. If you ask me if I know somebody and I say ‘no’ that is all I can say.”

In the roundtable interview, Bush also said he would push leaders of Britain, France and Germany — the so called “EU-3” — to keep pressing Iran to make sure that the Islamic republic does not develop nuclear weapons.

“My message is that it’s very important at this moment for the EU-3 to send a strong message to the new person there (Ahmadinejad) that the world is united,” the US president said.

“I believe the EU-3’s message is going to be a strong message,” said Bush.

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