"Ahmadinejad is, in fact, as we well know, not the principal decision-maker when it comes to foreign policy and national security," Ambassador Rice said. "It is the Supreme Leader. That was the case before the election; it is the case now. And we will proceed in pursuit of our national interests, using all elements at our disposal, to try to achieve the goals that are most important to us, which are obviously to prevent Iran from pursuing its nuclear weapons capability, preventing a regional arms race, ensuring that our partners and allies in the region and indeed the United States remain safe."
Ayatollah Khamenei may be in charge, but his apparent proxy, President Ahmadinejad, continues to escalate the rhetoric with President Obama. This week Mr. Obama highlighted the "bravery in the face of brutality" by those protesting the re-election of Ahmadinejad, and noted that opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has "captured the imagination" of the Iranian people hoping for change.
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Ahmadinejad accuses the U.S. of "meddling in Iran's internal affairs." In televised remarks Saturday he said, referring to President Obama, "Why did he interfere and comment in a way that disregards convention and courtesy?" He further accused Western leaders of making "insulting and irrelevant comments."
"It is enough," Ahmadinejad concluded. "Do not disgrace yourself further by such language and behavior." The newly re-elected president also warned that Iran's new government will be "more decisive and firmer" in its approach to the West.
Ambassador Rice downplayed Ahmadinejad's caustic remarks as part of the regime's "tradition playbook," which is to blame the West and the United States rather than to "recognize and acknowledge that what has transpired in Iran is really between the people of Iran and their government.
"This is a profound moment of change," Ambassador Rice said. "And what Ahmadinejad says to try to change the subject is frankly not going to work in the current context, because the people understand that the United States has not been meddling in their internal affairs; that on the contrary, we have expressed our values and our admiration for the bravery and the courage of those who have demonstrated and expressed themselves peacefully in support of true democracy."
For the U.S. and other nations, the political machinations and posturing are linked to preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons capabilities and spawning a regional arms race.
"Obviously the government's legitimacy has been called into question about the protests in the streets," Ambassador Rice said. "But that's not the critical issue in terms of our dealings with Iran. We are concerned for our own national interests to ensure that Iran doesn't pursue its nuclear program."
The U.S. has left the door open for bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, she said. "We need to see how that plays out. We need to see if indeed the offers that have been made by the international community will be opportunities that the Iranians choose to accept. They face a stark choice: Greater isolation, or ending their nuclear program and their other destabilizing activities and rejoining a responsible community of nations. That prospect remains their choice. But it's in the United States' national interest to make sure that we have employed all elements at our disposal, including diplomacy to prevent iran from achieving that nuclear capacity."