Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Obama's Failed Diplomacy: "Being A Leader Means I Might Have To Make A Decision...And I'm Scared"

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama for the first time voiced concerns about the way Iran's election was conducted, though he fell short of calls from some democracy activists that he formally denounce the vote.

Mr. Obama said Monday he was deeply troubled by the violence surrounding the election, but stressed it was up to the Iranian people to choose their leadership. He said he would maintain his policy of directly negotiating with Iran's leaders on its nuclear program, irrespective of the vote.

"It is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran's leaders will be. We respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran," Mr. Obama said.

"What I would say to those people who put so much hope and energy and optimism into the political process, I would say to them that the world is watching and inspired by their participation, regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the election was," he said.

The fluid political developments inside Iran are putting Mr. Obama in an increasingly difficult diplomatic position, U.S. officials and regional analysts said. Mr. Obama has pledged both to support democracy in the Middle East and to engage directly with Tehran's clerical rulers over the future of Iran's nuclear program.

Mr. Obama, altering the structure of his Iran policy team, is preparing to move career U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross to the White House from the State Department, a U.S. official said. As a member of the National Security Council, Mr. Ross, the administration's point man on Iran and the Persian Gulf, is expected to maintain this role with "expanded responsibilities" tied to Arab-Israeli issues, the official said. He will report more directly to the president, rather than through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Any push by Mr. Obama to overtly support Iranian opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi could make diplomatic talks more difficult, while potentially painting Mr. Mousavi and his supporters as American puppets, these officials and analysts said.

Still, a number of Iranian opposition leaders, inside and outside Iran, are calling on Mr. Obama to lend more direct public support to Iranians challenging the vote that re-elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. These activists fear any near-term dialogue between the Obama administration and Mr. Ahmadinejad or Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could result in legitimizing the Iranian regime and also validating the election results.

In his outreach so far to Iran, including in a speech on the Persian New Year, Mr. Obama has generally demurred on addressing democracy and human-rights issues while recognizing the rule of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Many Iranian activists say his stance will have to change.

"During the Iran New Year speech, he completely didn't address the human-rights issue. I think he got this wrong," said Hooshang Amirahmadi, president of the American-Iranian Council, which promotes dialogue. "If I was the U.S. government, I'd say this result calls for a coalition. The current system is wrong: it doesn't respond to the interests of the Iranian people."

Mr. Khamenei Monday ordered a probe into alleged irregularities in Iran's presidential vote -- a shift after his strong endorsement of Mr. Ahmadinejad's re-election over the weekend.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday joined world leaders in supporting an inquiry into the disputed presidential election in Iran.

"My position and that of the United Nations is that the genuine will of the Iranian people should be fully respected," Mr. Ban told reporters in New York.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he was "profoundly troubled by the political situation in Iran." The French foreign ministry on Monday summoned the Iranian ambassador to the ministry to explain his government's actions, but the ambassador sent his press counselor in his place, according to an official at the French mission to the U.N. in New York.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the U.S. was still evaluating the claims of election fraud, but reiterated the administration continued to have "doubts" about the returns.

Former U.S. officials said the Obama administration is walking an increasingly delicate line between supporting democracy in Iran and pursuing the abolition of Tehran's nuclear program. Any rupture of a dialogue between Tehran and the West could have implications for global security, these officials said. Israel has vowed to attack Iran's nuclear research sites if there isn't diplomatic progress to contain the nuclear program.(source)

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