Carney mum on Iranian regime's legitimacy

White House press secretary Jay Carney refused to say Thursday whether the government of Iran is "legitimate," hours after Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel stumbled over the subject during his confirmation hearing.

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"It's the government that we deal with," Carney said when asked point-blank if the government was legitimate. "It's the government that continues to flout its international obligations. And that behavior is illegitimate."

Carney was asked repeatedly to clarify the president's position on the subject, but stuck simply with condemning the behavior of the government.

"The government that we're dealing with is a government that has continued the unacceptable behavior that we've seen from Tehran from some time," Carney said.

In his confirmation hearing earlier Thursday, Hagel called the Iranian regime “an elected, legitimate government, whether we agree or not.”

The country's 2009 elections sparked mass protests in the nation, with international watchers casting doubt on the legitimacy of the results. At the time, President Obama said he had "deep concerns" over whether vote-rigging to favor Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had occurred. Carney noted that comment while responding to questions about Hagel's statements.

“I think our views on the last presidential election were clearly expressed, the president’s views on that matter and our views on the behavior of the regime in Tehran are expressed again and again and again," Carney said.

Later in the hearing, Hagel was asked to clarify his remarks by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

“What I meant to say, should have said, is that it’s ‘recognizable,’ ” Hagel said. “It is recognized at the United Nations. Most of our allies have embassies there. That’s what I should have said.”

At the White House, Carney also condemned Iran's decision in install new equipment at its Natanz nuclear plant, calling the move a "further escalation" of tensions over its nuclear program.

"The installation of new advanced centrifuges is a further escalation and a continuing violation ... of Iran's obligations under relevant United Nations Security Council and IAEA board resolutions," Carney said.