Obama administration cautious as Iran unrest grows

The White House and State Department responded guardedly to Iran's disputed election and the increasingly tumultuous aftermath Saturday, while the few lawmakers who spoke up were quick to condemn the vote.

Iran declared President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner by a landslide in Friday's vote, something that the leading opposition candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, and many election-watchers deemed an impossibility considering the high voter turnout and pre-election polls that showed either a dead heat or a big win for Mousavi.

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As night fell in Tehran on Saturday, news agencies reported that Mousavi supporters were clashing with riot police and some Ahmadinejad backers in the streets, setting fires and chucking bottles and rocks. Mousavi maintains that he is the true winner of the elections.

"Like the rest of the world, we were impressed by the vigorous debate and enthusiasm that this election generated, particularly among young Iranians," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement Saturday. "We continue to monitor the entire situation closely, including reports of irregularities."

Appearing with Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon in Ontario on Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton echoed the careful tone -- as well as the refrain on enthusiasm and debate -- as the White House, while intimating that the election was not yet over.

"We watched closely the enthusiasm and the very vigorous debate and dialogue that occurred in the lead-up to the Iranian elections," Clinton said. "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," Clinton added. "The United States has refrained from commenting on the election in Iran. We obviously hope that the outcome reflects the genuine will and desire of the Iranian people."

Clinton's host went a step further in addressing the Islamic Republic.

"We’re troubled by reports of intimidation of opposition candidates' offices by security forces," Cannon said. "We’ve tasked our embassy officials to – in Tehran to closely monitor the situation, and Canada is calling on Iranian authorities to conduct fair and transparent counting of all ballots."

When contacted by The Hill on Saturday, the office of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said there was "no immediate reaction to the results."

Kerry came out in support of Iran's right to uranium enrichment in a Financial Times interview published Wednesday, calling the Bush administration's hard line against the nuclear processing -- which Iran claims is for nuclear power -- "ridiculous" and "bombastic diplomacy."

Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, blasted the election results as "neither free nor fair" and cited Ahmadinejad's "very troubling" association with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as a threat to the Western Hemisphere.

“Nothing has changed in Iran following the results of their presidential elections," Mack said in a statement Saturday. "The country will continue to be ruled by a dangerous man, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is a serious threat to democratic nations in the region and the world.

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“I am also not surprised to hear that cellular service in Tehran was shut down in an effort to block organizers from speaking the truth," Mack added. "This election was neither free nor fair and the world is more dangerous with Ahmadinejad as President of Iran."

House Homeland Security Committee member Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) said on Fox News on Saturday that the elections proved the ruling clerics didn't want change. "There appears to be pretty good evidence that this is a cooked election," Lungren said.

"One of the things we know is that there is a good deal of unrest with the population," Lungren said. "One of the delicate things that we've been trying to do is how to you encourage those elements who want to have a true expression for democracy and want to have better relations with the West while at the same time not kowtowing to the leadership we have now with respect to what they're doing in terms of going forward with their nuclear plans."

The Associated Press reported Saturday evening that Iranian authorities had stormed the offices of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, the country's largest reformist party, and arrested several opposition leaders. Text messaging and cell phones were blocked in Tehran, as well as pro-Mousavi websites and Facebook.

"I won't surrender to this manipulation," Mousavi, who didn't appear in public Saturday, said in a statement posted on his Web site. "The outcome of what we've seen from the performance of officials ... is nothing but shaking the pillars of the Islamic Republic of Iran's sacred system and governance of lies and dictatorship."

The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency did not mention the unrest on its website, but simply reported that "congratulation messages pour in" for Ahmadinejad -- from Syrian President Bashar Assad, Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad-Mehdi Akef, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.