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Is Iran Recount Aimed At Keeping Status Quo?

The top U.S. negotiator on Iran under President Bush said Tuesday that a decision by Tehran to recount some ballots in last week's disputed election is a positive step, but that it is ultimately aimed at keeping incumbent leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power.

Former ambassador Nicholas Burns, in an interview for NPR's Morning Edition, also praised the current administration's handling of the crisis. Burns said President Obama has been doing an "effective job" of talking up the moderates while making it clear that Washington would not meddle in Iran's internal affairs.

"President Ahmadinejad would like nothing better than to see an aggressive series of statements from the United States that would put the U.S. in the center of this, and I think President Obama is avoiding that quite rightly," Burns said.

Obama said he respects Iran's sovereignty and that "this is not a dispute for the U.S. to be the center of. It's up to Iranians to decide who Iran's future leaders will be," Burns said.

Obama "demonstrated clear sympathy for the reformers," the former ambassador said. "I think the fact that he's been low-key about it and the fact that he is saying denial of rights and violence are of a concern to him, and that he was inspired by the reformers, is, I think, the right thing to say."

Burns' review of Obama's handling of the situation was largely echoed by Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the senior GOP member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who said Tuesday on CBS's The Early Show that it would be unwise for the United States to get any more involved than it is.

However, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), appearing on NBC's Today show, charged that Obama wasn't taking a tough enough stance. McCain, the president's former rival on the campaign trail, said Obama "should speak out that this is a corrupt, flawed sham of an election and that the Iranian people have been deprived of their rights."

The former ambassador's comments came on the same day that Iran's Islamic leadership, known as the Guardian Council, said it is prepared to conduct a limited recount of disputed presidential elections. Iran's state radio also reported earlier Tuesday that seven people were killed during clashes in the Iranian capital the previous day — the first official confirmation of deaths linked to the largest protests and street battles since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

In Friday's vote, Ahmadinejad was declared the victor over his popular reformist rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi. Burns called the recount a "surprising decision" that points to the fact that the government is "obviously reeling" at the backlash from the election, seen by many as having been rigged to keep Ahmadinejad in power.

"That fact that the Guardian Council, which is pro-establishment and generally pro-government, would agree to count some of the ballots is a good step forward," Burns said. "But I think the government may be deploying a strategy to placate the reformers, to keep them off the streets, but probably the Guardian Council intends to preserve Ahmadinejad's victory, I am sorry to say."

He said the reform movement made up of Mousavi's supporters is fundamentally different from reform movements of the past.

Mousavi's supporters are "not just young people, not just students, but people of all backgrounds and people of all ages. The strength of that movement was made evident" during Monday's protests, he said.

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