Iran vows ‘crushing’ response to US critiques
Ahmadinejad questions motives of administration
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed yesterday to make the United States regret its criticism of Iran’s postelection crackdown and said the “mask has been removed’’ from the Obama administration’s efforts to improve relations.
Ahmadinejad all but dared Obama to keep calling for an end to repression of demonstrators who claim the hard-line leader stole reelection through massive fraud.
“You should know that if you continue the response of the Iranian nation will be strong,’’ Ahmadinejad said in a speech to members of Iran’s judiciary, which is directly controlled by the ruling clerics. “The response of the Iranian nation will be crushing. The response will cause remorse.’’
Ahmadinejad has no authority to direct major policy decisions on his own - a power that rests with the nonelected theocracy. But his comments often reflect the thinking of the ruling establishment.
The cleric-led regime now appears to have quashed a protest movement that brought hundreds of thousands to the streets of Tehran and other cities in the greatest challenge to its authority in 30 years. There have been no significant demonstrations in days.
Days of relatively restrained talk from both Washington and Tehran appear to be returning to a familiar pattern of condemnation and recrimination despite Obama’s stated desire to move away from mutual hostility. Iran and the United States still appear interested in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, but the rising rhetorical temperature can be expected to slow progress toward a deal, experts said.
“The political feasibility of pursuing it, and the likelihood of success has changed,’’ said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council. “I have a hard time seeing any real engagement taking place for at least four to six months.’’
Obama acknowledged Friday that Iran’s violent suppression of unrest would hinder progress, saying “There is no doubt that any direct dialogue or diplomacy with Iran is going to be affected by the events of the last several weeks.’’
Obama struck a conciliatory tone toward Iran after taking office, sending a video greeting for Persian New Year that used the government’s formal name - the Islamic Republic of Iran - in a signal that the goal of regime change had been set aside. He even avoided strong language as Iran began suppressing street protests, saying he wanted to avoid becoming a foil for Iranian hard-liners who blame the United States and other Western powers for instigating internal dissent.
But Obama decried Iran’s crackdown more vigorously as amateur videos of beating and shootings began flooding the Internet. He said Friday in his strongest condemnation yet that violence perpetrated against protesters was “outrageous,’’ and dismissed a demand from Ahmadinejad to repent for earlier criticism.
“I would suggest that Mr. Ahmadinejad think carefully about the obligations he owes to his own people,’’ Obama added.
Iran also had been stopping short of its normally harsh language about the United States, mostly blaming Britain and even France and Germany as Mousavi’s supporters demanded a new election. Ahmadinejad had made relatively few appearances in an apparent attempt to avoid inflaming the situation.
The protests dwindled to scattered clashes as riot police and Basij militiamen put down the unrest using batons, tear gas, water cannons and, in at least 17 cases, live ammunition. Mousavi said Friday that he would seek official permission for any future rallies, effectively ending his role in street protests.
Ahmadinejad appeared self-assured and even invigorated yesterday in the face of the previous day’s personal challenge from Obama.
“We are surprised at Mr. Obama,’’ Ahmadinejad said. “Didn’t he say that he was after change? They keep saying that they want to hold talks with Iran. All right, we have expressed our readiness as well. But is this the correct way?’’ Ahmadinejad told judiciary officials.
“They showed their hand to the people of Iran, before all people of the world. Their mask has been removed.’’
He still appeared to leave some opening for dialogue, saying Iranians officials “have expressed our readiness’’ and still want the United States to “join the righteous servants of humanity as well.’’