West Guarded as Ahmadinejad Starts Second Term

Western powers backed opponents of Iran’s hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he took power for a second term but shied from criticising him to keep all “communication channels” open.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed admiration for Ahmadinejad’s reformist opponents while underscoring that Washington would maintain a policy of engagement with Tehran.

“We appreciate and we admire the continuing resistance and ongoing efforts by the reformers to make the changes that the Iranian people deserve,” Clinton said in Nairobi as she launched a seven-nation Africa tour on Wednesday.

“Our policy remains the same. We take the reality that the person who was inaugurated today will be considered the president,” she said.

“We are still clear in our policy that engagement is on the table for the Iranians.”

President Barack Obama has made overtures for dialogue with Iran after three decades of severed ties, but Tehran has failed to respond and vowed to press on with its contested nuclear programme.

Britain echoed Washington’s line as it defended the presence of Ambassador Simon Gass at the ceremony in Tehran on Wednesday and underscored it had not sent a congratulatory message to Ahmadinejad.

Britain had made its position clear about the “abuse of human rights” that followed Ahmadinejad’s victory in the June 12 election, which opposition supporters claim was rigged, the Foreign Office said in a statement.

It also said there were serious issues Britain needs to address with Iran, “including the international community’s legitimate and pressing concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme” and the “very concerning” rights situation.

“Trying to make progress on these difficult but crucial issues requires hard-headed diplomacy. That does not mean ‘business as usual’ with Iran… but it does mean communication channels have to be kept open,” the statement added.

France and Sweden, which currently holds the presidency of the European Union, were among other European countries to send envoys to the inauguration.

French foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal stressed that Paris “in line with international law, recognises states and not governments.”

Norway summoned the Iranian charge d’affaires for a second time in a month and urged Tehran to free opposition detainees. It also expressed concern about the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic.

“Norway expressed its concern over the situation for protesters, politicians, journalists and human rights advocates imprisoned in Iran,” Foreign Minister Jonas Gahe Stoere said in a statement.

Stoere called for the release of detained protestors and said reports of torture were “particularly serious.”

In Brussels, about 150 demonstrators – shouting “Down with the dictator” and “Shame on you, Ahmadinejad” – gathered outside the Iranian embassy to demand respect for human rights and the release of political prisoners.

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