The U.S. on Saturday refused to accept hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's claim of a landslide re-election victory in Iran and said it was looking into allegation of election fraud.
"We are monitoring the situation as it unfolds in Iran, but we, like the rest of the world, are waiting and watching to see what the Iranian people decide," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said at a news conference with Canada's foreign affairs minister, Lawrence Cannon.
Minutes after Clinton spoke, the White House released a two-sentence statement praising "the vigorous debate and enthusiasm that this election generated, particularly among young Iranians," but expressing concern about "reports of irregularities."
Neither Clinton nor the White House mentioned Ahmadinejad or his chief rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, by name, or acknowledged the incumbent's victory declaration.
Iranian authorities reported that Ahmadinejad was re-elected with 62.6 percent of the vote. He called on the public to respect the vote. But Mousavi, a former prime minister who has become the hero of a youth-driven movement seeking greater liberties and a gentler face for Iran abroad, rejected the results and accused authorities of rigging Friday's vote.
In brief remarks in Canada, Clinton cited "the enthusiasm and the very vigorous debate and dialogue" in the run-up to the vote. "We obviously hope that the outcome reflects the genuine will and desire of the Iranian people," she said.
Canada 'deeply concerned'
Cannon said his country was "deeply concerned" by reports of irregularities in the election. "We're troubled by reports of intimidation of opposition candidates' offices by security forces," he said. "Canada is calling on Iranian authorities to conduct fair and transparent counting of all ballots."
Hadi Ghaemi, spokesman for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, denounced the outcome as "a Tehran Tiananmen" — a reference to China's brutal 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy activists — and urged the international community not to recognize the result.
The election outcome will not sharply alter Iran's main policies or sway major decisions, such as possible talks with Washington or nuclear policies. Those crucial issues rest with the ruling clerics headed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But the election focused on what the office of the Iranian president can influence: boosting Iran's sinking economy, pressing for greater media and political freedoms, and being Iran's main envoy to the world.
Iran does not allow international election monitors. During the 2005 election, when Ahmadinejad won the presidency, there were some allegations of vote rigging from losers, but the claims were never investigated.
Meanwhile, a world wary of Iran's nuclear program reacted cautiously to the news.
For the volatile Middle East and the West alike, the stakes remain high.
Iran is a key economic player in the region, a perceived threat to Israel's national security — and a major worry for the U.S. and allies who fear Tehran is trying to build an atomic weapon.
Privately, many diplomats at the International Atomic Energy Agency — the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog — said they expected little change regardless of who wound up in charge of Iran's government.
That is because Iran's main policies and any major decisions, such as possible talks with Washington or nuclear policies, rest with the ruling clerics headed by Iran's unelected supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"On the nuclear question, it's very clear that the ultimate decision maker is Ayatollah Khamenei," said Mohsen Milani, an expert on Iran at the University of South Florida. At best, he said, Ahmadinejad plays a subtle and nuanced role.
"The central question of security or war and peace is not in his domain. It's unambiguously in the domain of the supreme leader," Milani said.
And more Ahmadinejad spells less change, said former President Jimmy Carter.
"I don't think it will have any real effect because the same person will be there as has been there," Carter said after meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "I think this election has bought out a lot of opposition to his policies in Iran, and I'm sure he'll listen to those opinions and hopefully moderate his position."
Ahmadinejad's new mandate may allow Israel to briefly deflect U.S. pressure to endorse the creation of a Palestinian state and freeze the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, said Yossi Alpher, a former intelligence official and government adviser.
Ahmadinejad has outraged Israelis and many others worldwide by publicly challenging the Jewish state's right to exist.
"The re-election of Ahmadinejad demonstrates the increasing Iranian threat," said Danny Ayalon, Israel's deputy foreign minister.
Iraq's government said it hoped the Iranian leader will seek reconciliation with other countries to promote peace in the region.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Iraq is ready to help build friendly relations based on mutual interests. Iraq's Shiite-led government faces a delicate balancing act in maintaining close ties to both the U.S. and Iran.
"We hope that the new term of the Iranian president will begin a period of reconciliation with all countries that have no friendly relations with it," al-Dabbagh said Saturday in a clear reference to the U.S.
Dawood al-Shirian, a prominent Saudi columnist, said Ahmadinejad's victory was no surprise.
"This reminds me of (George W.) Bush's second victory at the polls," he said. "The Iranians feel they are under regional and international threat and therefore they do not want change at this time."
"Plus their nuclear program is a source of pride for them and they believe that Ahmadinejad is the one who won't deprive them of it," he added.
Al-Shirian said Ahmadinejad's win "won't necessarily be a bad thing" for Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf. "There are open channels with Ahmadinejad. They know him, and it's better to deal with someone they know," said al-Shirian.
And Obama's conciliatory new approach could soften Ahmadinejad's defiance.
"Ahmadinejad cannot continue on the same belligerent path," he said. "There will be a change in language and approach."
Mousavi, Ahmadinejad's opponent, had advocated closer Iranian ties to the U.S. Perhaps not surprisingly, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez — a frequent critic of U.S. foreign policy — rushed to declare his support for the incumbent.
"In President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad we have one of the greatest allies on this earth," Chavez said at an oil summit in the Caribbean.