June 27, 2005

New Iran leader vows moderation

By Paul Hughes

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Hardline President-elect MahmoudAhmadinejad said he would form a government of moderation buttriggered Western concern he would toughen policy on Iran'snuclear program and roll back freedoms at home.

U.S Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on SundayAhmadinejad, who takes over from reformist President MohammadKhatami on Aug. 3, was "no friend of democracy (and) no friendof freedom." The European Union also expressed worries.

Ahmadinejad said he would press on with the nuclearprogram, which Iran says is only for power generation but whichWashington charges is designed to create atomic bombs.

The former Tehran mayor told his first news conference Iranhad no real need for ties with the United States, often dubbedthe "Great Satan" in the Islamic Republic.

But he said Iran would not abandon talks on its nuclearprogram with the European Union, although negotiations would bebased on Tehran's "national interest."

Many Iranians fear his landslide victory in Friday'spresidential election run-off, when he crushed veteran clericAkbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, heralds a return to the purges andstrictures of the early days after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Ahmadinejad now faces the task of assuaging those fears ashe starts forming a government to unite the divided country,the world's fourth largest oil exporter.


"Today moderation and tolerance will be our government'smain lines, a government of friendship and tolerance thatbelongs to all Iranians ... We will serve members of thisnation without considering their tendencies," he said.

The United States, which criticized the presidential voteas unfair before the first ballot was cast, said Ahmadinejad'sgovernment would be unacceptable to young Iranians and women.

EU Commissioner Franco Frattini told Italy's La Repubblicanewspaper the 25-nation bloc would freeze dialogue with Iran ifits comments on nuclear or human rights issues were "negative."

Many analysts say Iran's president has little power tochange national policy because the final word on matters ofstate under Iran's system of clerical rule rests in the handsof Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But a hardline presidency is likely to toughen Iran'sresolve.

"Decision-making in Iran is by consensus, and if youeliminate the voices of moderation, then the consensus is goingto shift toward the right," said Karim Sadjadpour, Tehran-basedanalyst for the International Crisis Group.

Ahmadinejad, a former officer in the hardline RevolutionaryGuard and instructor with the Basij religious militia, bothfiercely loyal to Islamic revolutionary ideals, has pledgedallegiance to Khamenei.

"I believe religious democracy ... is the best kind ofgovernment in the world," said the 48-year-old, who visited theshrine to the Islamic state's founder Ayatollah RuhollahKhomeini on Sunday.

He secured many votes from Iran's religiously devout pooras he railed against what he called rich cliques and vowed toshare out oil wealth.

Iranian conservatives have hailed Ahmadinejad as a man whocould take on the United States and uphold the moral principlesof the revolution. Reformists have blamed themselves forfailing to implement change more effectively under Khatami.