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US 'Deeply Troubled' by Attempt to Exclude Iranian Candidates

The United States joined the European Union Monday in criticizing an attempt by Iran's hard-line Guardians Council to exclude reformist candidates from running in next month's presidential election. Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has told the council to reconsider the move.

The Bush administration, a frequent critic of Iran's unelected religious authorities, says it is deeply troubled by the attempt to exclude moderate and women candidates from the election and says the move does a grave disservice to the Iranian people.

The Guardians Council, a panel of conservative clerics and jurists who supervise elections and vet legislation to assure it conforms to Islamic law, rejected all but six presidential hopefuls out of a field of more than 1,000 contenders.

Among those barred from running were the most prominent moderate candidates as well as all 93 women who had registered to contest the June 17 election to succeed incumbent reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

As he did after a similar move by the Guardians Council to limit the field in 2004 legislative elections, Ayatollah Khamenei ordered the council to reconsider, though it is unclear whether, or to what degree, the panel might relent.

The European Union, which begins a new round of talks with Iran on its nuclear program Wednesday, said it was very disappointed by the council's decision.

The critical U.S. reaction came from State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher, who said it is particularly ironic that the decision came on the seventh anniversary of the date the Iranian electorate went to the polls to elect Mr. Khatami, who was not supported by the hard-line clerics:

"Today's disqualifications are clearly intended to insure that only those completely acceptable to the hard-line regime are presented to the electorate. As always, the United States believes the Iranian people deserve to shape the governance of their country and to choose their own leaders. The hopes and dreams of the Iranian people have gone sadly unfulfilled. But their aspirations for a better and freer Iran remain," he said.

After Ayatollah Khamenei intervened with the council in 2004, it agreed to reinstate only a handful of parliamentary candidates, with Mr. Boucher noting that the result was an electoral process that was deeply flawed.

In a Washington speech earlier Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said even the unelected leaders in Tehran must realize the Middle East is changing.

She told the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC that the energy of reform building in the region will one day inspire Iranians to demand their liberty and their rights," and said the United States stands with them.

She also said the world can tolerate neither the Iranian regime's efforts to subvert democratic government's through terrorism, nor any attempt by it to develop a nuclear weapon.