The United States has added its criticism to the decision by Iran's conservative religious authority, the Guardian Council, to disqualify many reformist politicians from parliamentary elections next month. The State Department said the United State supports elections that are free, fair and open to all.

The United States has joined the European Union in criticizing the move by the Iranian Guardian Council to disqualify half of the more than 8,000 candidates for the country's February 20 parliamentary vote.

The council, an appointed body dominated by hard-line Islamic clerics, had disqualified some candidates from previous elections and blocked reform legislation from parliament, but its action Sunday was by far the most sweeping action taken against reform elements.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the United States opposes limiting voters' choices as a matter of principle and he urged that the Iranian government to invalidate the Guardian Council's decision:

"We, as a matter of course, support free and fair elections in Iran, and we are therefore opposed to interference in the electoral process," he said. "We call upon the Iranian government to disavow attempts by the Guardian Council to shape the outcome of the February 20th parliamentary elections. And we would note that a government's handling of the electoral process is one of the fundamental measurements of its credibility."

Mr. Ereli said decisions about who should govern a country are best made by the citizens of that country through an open and transparent process, and said the options of a people should not be limited by other institutions so as to prejudge the outcome of an election.

The spokesman rejected a suggestion that the U.S. position amounted to interference in an Iranian internal matter and said the Bush administration has made clear on numerous occasions that it is important that the voice of the people in Iran be heard.

He said there are measures within the Iranian constitutional system for the Guardian Council decision to be overturned and he said it is important that the political process in the country be transparent, fair and open to all.

The council action would disqualify more than 80 reformist lawmakers from the February 20 vote. European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana, on a visit to Iran, said it would be hard to explain to EU lawmakers how a sitting member of a parliament can be barred from seeking re-election.