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Keep low profile in Iran.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The last thing protesters risking their lives on the streets of Tehran need is for President Obama to give President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reason to blame unrest in his country on meddling by the "Great Satan." That explains why the statements from the White House have been restrained expressions of "deep concern," rather than a full-throated condemnation of an election that shows strong signs of having been stolen.

Look beyond the president's guarded words. Look instead to the U.S. State Department, which prevailed upon Twitter to delay a planned upgrade of its social networking service. The upgrade would have required a temporary shutdown of what has emerged as a primary means of communication in Iran now that the government has moved to block Web sites and restricted the movements of foreign journalists. Keeping Twitter up and running gives Iran's dissidents the information lifeline they really need.

The election results looked phony from the start. Somehow, officials managed to count 24 million paper ballots within hours, and announced that Ahmadinejad had won 63 percent of the vote. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei congratulated Ahmadinejad on his "historic victory" without waiting for the official result. The announced results mirrored the results of a poll taken a month before the election - a poll conducted before Iranians hungry for change rallied behind former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, and a poll that showed more than half of voters undecided or unwilling to express a preference. The elections process itself is under the control of the minister of the interior, an aide to Ahmadinejad.

The election was conducted within the tight confines of the unique theocratic-republican system put in place after the Islamic revolution of 1979. The real leader of Iran is not the president, but Khamenei, who is not elected. Presidential candidates are screened by the non-elected Guardian Council, which placed four candidates on the ballot but disqualified 400 others.

Despite these limitations, Iranians expect integrity in elections, and it matters who wins. The president manages the government's day-to-day affairs and presents Iran's face to the world. In both respects, Ahmadinejad has alienated and embarrassed many Iranians, presiding over a weak economy at home and projecting a belligerent image abroad.

In the face of the biggest protests since the 1979 revolution, the Guardian Council, backed by Khamenei, has offered to conduct a partial recount of the votes. The offer is an attempt to buy time. A recount would be helpful only if the first vote count was thrown off by errors that were both inadvertent and substantial. That's a stretch. A recount would do nothing to correct the flaws of an election that was fixed from the start. That's why Mousavi has rejected a recount, demanding a new election instead.

Where all this is heading is anybody's guess. Mousavi is a reformer, not a revolutionary, but the United States' interests lie with his supporters - and those interests are served best by keeping a low profile.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Meddling by 'Great Satan' empowers Ahmadinejad
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jun 17, 2009
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