U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has questioned the legitimacy of the 17 June presidential poll in Iran, saying the country's reform effort has gone backwards. Rice yesterday repeated calls for political openness in Iran, an end to support for U.S.-designated terrorist groups and an agreement with European parties regarding its nuclear program. She spoke ahead of a visit aimed at boosting democracy efforts among U.S. Mideast allies.
Washington, 17 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the Iranian presidential race cannot be viewed in the same positive light as other recent political openings in the Middle East.
Rice told reporters yesterday that Iran's political process is headed in the wrong direction. She said moves in the last two years by conservative-dominated bodies to remove moderates from the parliament and presidential candidate lists raised serious doubts.
"When you have a system in which somebody arbitrarily sits and handpicks who can run and who can not run it's a little hard to see that producing an outcome that is going to lead to improvement in the situation. We've always said that this is also an issue of the behavior of the Iranian government," Rice said.
Rice said U.S. officials would wait to see whether the Iranian elections lead to meaningful changes. She said Washington will be looking for a settlement of the dispute over its nuclear program, which the United States believes masks a weapons program. She also called for end to Iran's support of Hizbollah in Lebanon and for positive behavior toward its neighbors Afghanistan and Iraq.
The secretary of state spoke ahead of her trip today to U.S. allies Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. She will confer on antiterror efforts as well as press the Bush administration's pro-democracy agenda in the region.
The United States has faced criticism for not pressing its allies to adopt more sweeping political reforms. Rice said the United States would be looking for Egypt to follow through with plans for multiparty presidential polls. But she stressed that democracy is a process, "not a single-day event."
Middle East Trip
Rice, visiting Saudi Arabia and Egypt for the first time as secretary of state, said she would urge increased pressure on Syria to stop infiltrations of insurgents into Iraq.
"We have consistently talked with Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Jordan about what they can do to impress upon Syrians that they have obligation to first of all have good relations with their neighbor which means not creating conditions in which their territory is being used to attack the aspirations of their neighbor Iraq," Rice said.
The Bush administration has also faced questions about its willingness to press another antiterror ally, Uzbekistan, to permit an investigation of its crackdown last month in Andijon. There are reported to be divisions between the State Department and Defense Department over how hard to pressure the regime of Islam Karimov.
Rice repeated the call for an independent international investigation into the killings in Andijon. She noted the importance of the U.S. military base in Uzbekistan but said that would not temper calls for the Karimov regime to reform.
"The answer to the potential threat of extremism in a country is not to close the system down but rather to open it up to legitimate and more moderate voices in the political system. We've continually said that to President Karimov and to his advisers," Rice said.
From the Middle East, Rice will head to Brussels next week to represent the United States at a conference on Iraq which will aim to spur political and economic support for the fledgling government there. Representatives from 80 countries, including Iran, will be there.
Rice concludes her trip in London with a meeting of foreign ministers of the Group of Eight leading industrial states.
She said she expects to discuss with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other officials ways at stabilizing the South Caucasus. That will include an effort to resolve the so-called "frozen conflicts" in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia.
"One of the issues that I think we have to talk about is if we can get some of these frozen conflicts resolved peacefully, then the economic benefits for that region I think would be quite dramatic and so yes, that would be an important issue," Rice said.
The ministerial meeting in London is in preparation for the July summit of heads of state in Scotland.
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