U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday she thinks the Iranian political system is regressing in terms of openness and reform. She said whatever leaders emerge from Friday's presidential elections will have to change Iranian behavior if they want to be more in step with the rest of the region.
Her comments at a news conference mirrored those of President Bush, who said in a written statement earlier Thursday that the Iranian election was sadly consistent with the repressive record of the country's unelected clerical leaders.
Citing the arbitrary disqualification of hundreds of candidates including all the women who sought to run, Ms. Rice said it is hard to see Friday's voting producing an outcome that will improve the Iranian political situation, which she said had deteriorated in recent years:
"I think everyone would say that the Iranian system, the political system, was more open a few years ago, than it is now. If you look at the role of the Majlis [The Islamic Consultative Assembly] a few years ago, it was actually a central point for reform. Many of those deputies were then not allowed to run, or were in some way kept from running in the next elections. If you look at the elections that took place before there was more openness in those elections. So some of this is about trend-lines and the Iranians are moving the wrong direction," she said.
Ms. Rice said under the circumstances, she cannot see how Fridays vote can be considered a legitimate election.
Whatever the outcome, she said the United States and others will be looking to see if Iran's leaders are willing to change behavior in key areas to put the country more in step with what is going on in the region. "That means to have their political system move toward greater openness, first of all. Secondly, that they are going to live up to their obligations not to try and seek a nuclear weapon under cover of a civilian nuclear power, and that is that they'll take the deal that the E-Three (Britain, France and Germany) is giving them. Third, that they are prepared to be transparent and good neighbors for the new democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq, and fourth that they are going to get out of the business of supporting terrorist and rejectionist groups which go right at the heart of what most of the Middle East is now trying to achieve: a peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis," she said.
Ms. Rice said if the Iranians are prepared to start on that course, we would be "in a different set of circumstances than we are now."
The Secretary of State spoke on the eve of her departure on a trip that will take her to the Middle East and then to Europe next week where she will take part in a conference on supporting Iraqi democracy sponsored by the United States and the European Union.
Iran will be represented at the June 22 Brussels meeting, though officials here say there are no plans for any separate meeting between Ms. Rice and Iranian officials.
In his written statement on Iran, President Bush said a tide of freedom is sweeping the greater Middle East, as seen in elections in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Palestinian areas and Lebanon, and that it will also come eventually to Iran.