The Guardian: Iran’s new hardline president-elect, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, yesterday threw down a challenge to western leaders by vowing to resist international pressure to abandon the country’s nuclear programme and branding Israel the source of instability in the Middle East.
Surprise poll winner confounds west
Robert Tait in Tehran, Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger in Washington
Iran’s new hardline president-elect, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, yesterday threw down a challenge to western leaders by vowing to resist international pressure to abandon the country’s nuclear programme and branding Israel the source of instability in the Middle East.
The remarks, made at his first press conference since a landslide victory, will underline concerns in America, Israel, Britain and other European countries, where wrongfooted diplomats have been scrambling to come to terms with the consequences of his win.
The rise of Mr Ahmadinejad, the ultra-Islamist mayor of Tehran who has expressed a desire to recreate the atmosphere of the early days of Iran’s 1979 revolution, has created alarm, not least because of fears it will be even harder to secure a diplomatic solution to the stand-off between Iran and the west over the country’s nuclear programme.
The British government has been dismayed by the election result, seeing it as a setback for its efforts along with France and Germany to secure a compromise.
A Foreign Office source, in a rare resort to undiplomatic language, referred to Mr Ahmadinejad as a “headcase”.
The Foreign Office spokesman elaborated, saying the official policy for the time being was to “wait and see” but that “our analysis is this guy appears to be a throwback to the early 80s and that cannot be a good thing”.
The Israeli foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, who described the election as undemocratic, yesterday urged international action against Iran. “Faced with the Iranian nuclear threat, the international community must, more than before, formulate a unified and stern policy towards Iran,” he said.
Israel, which has hinted that it might launch a unilateral military strike against Iran’s nuclear plants if Tehran refuses to back down, yesterday urged the United Nations security council to address the nuclear issue.
But in Tehran yesterday at a packed press conference, Mr Ahmadinejad made it clear he had no intention of being dictated to over the nuclear issue. “Peaceful nuclear technology is the fruit of the scientific growth of the Iranian nation and its young people,” he said. “We need this technology for our medical, engineering and technical fields and we will continue with it.”
Iran claims it is only pursuing a civilian nuclear programme, a matter of national pride, and has no ambitions to build a nuclear bomb.
However, Washington, Tel Aviv and London all share a suspicion that Tehran is covertly embarking on a programme to acquire the technology to build the bomb and they are seeking curbs.
Mr Ahmadinejad was asked about the nuclear issue no fewer than seven times yesterday. He stuck rigidly to formulaic answers about Iran’s nuclear programme, studiously avoiding threats to withdraw from negotiations with Britain, France and Germany.
The two-year-old negotiations are on hold while the European trio try to come up with fresh proposals to put to the Iranians by the end of July or early August.
In his criticism of Israel, Mr Ahmadinejad said: “In the international field, some people want to impose a one-sided relationship. The situation of the heads of the Zionist regime [Israel”> is clearer than to require any explanation from me.
“Those people who demolish houses over the heads of women and children are the real source of any problems in the Middle East.”
Asked about his approach to Iran’s much-criticised human rights record, Mr Ahmadinejad replied: “Liberty is the soul of the Islamic revolution.”
Mr Ahmadinejad, 49, a slight figure, appeared bemused by the huge number of journalists facing him.
But he insisted that his election win had been achieved in the face of “foreign manipulation”.
He added: “Iran today has self-confidence, self-reliance and is on the path to development. It doesn’t have any great need of the United States.”
Britain has tried to engage with Iran but Mr Ahmadinejad, in his two years as mayor of Tehran, has repeatedly refused requests from the British ambassador, Richard Dalton, for a meeting – a possible indication of his preference for isolation from, rather than involvement, with the west.
The US secretary of state, Donald Rumsfeld, said Mr Ahmadinejad was “no friend of democracy” and would prove himself unacceptable to Iran’s young people and its women.
There has been no immediate reaction from the White House. But the state department, which dismissed the election as rigged, said: “With the conclusion of the elections in Iran, we have seen nothing that dissuades us from our view that Iran is out of step with the rest of the region.”
Analysts suggested that the election victory may strengthen the hawks in the US administration who want the Europeans to abandon negotiations and join the US and Israel in pushing for the imposition of UN sanctions on Iran.
Mark Gasiorowski, an Iran expert at Louisiana State University, said: “My guess is that it makes it easier for the [Bush administration”> to argue that Iran is hardline and won’t reach a deal on the nukes, though I suspect that the EU 3 [the European negotiators”> will want to play out the negotiations for several more months to see.”