Iran Rulers Could Order Limited Recounts

Unidentified demonstrators show signs outside the Iranian embassy in Rome, June 15, 2009.
AP Photo/Angelo Carconi
Last Updated 3:34 p.m. ET

Iran's Islamic leadership is prepared to conduct a limited recount of disputed presidential elections, a spokesman said Tuesday, as thousands of people took to the streets to show support for the regime and authorities cracked down on independent media.

According to Iran's state-controlled media, the council, which controls nearly every aspect of life and law in the country, said that if they find evidence of fake identity cards being used or votes being bought, they will order a recount in those areas.

State TV quoted council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei as saying that the recount would be limited to voting sites where candidates claim irregularities took place. It was not clear which or how many voting sites would be affected.

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports that it is hard to envision limited recounts in some areas having a significant effect on the total tally as it stands - a purported landslide victory for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Some Mousavi supporters have called for a compete redo of the election and have taken to the streets to protest, including Monday's dramatic demonstrations in Tehran that ended with at least one person being killed.

But the death toll could be higher. According to Iran's state radio, seven people were killed during the clashes - the first official confirmation of deaths linked to the wave of protests and street battles following the disputed election.

In downtown Tehran, thousands of people gathered Tuesday in dueling rallies - one a state-organized demonstration that Iran's state media said was designed to demand punishment for the rioters from Monday's clashes; the other a "massive" gathering of pro-reform protesters continuing their support for challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Amid the protests, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for national unity after meeting with envoys of the country's four presidential candidates.

Khamenei was quoted as saying that: "In the elections, voters had different tendencies, but they equally believe in the ruling system and support the Islamic Republic."

Khamenei, Iran's ultimate authority, says that representatives of all four candidates should be present for any limited recount of disputed ballots, which the country's cleric-led Guardian Council said Tuesday that it would be willing to conduct.

Meanwhile, after images were shown around the world of mass protests and violence following the disputed election, the government on Tuesday cracked down on journalists.

Authorities restricted journalists, including Iranians working for foreign media from reporting on the streets, and said they could only work from their offices, conducting telephone interviews and monitoring official sources such as state television.

The rules prevent media outlets from sending independent photos or video of street protests or rallies.

Also Tuesday, foreign reporters in Iran to cover last week's elections began leaving the country. Iranian officials said they will not extend their visas.

The 12-member Guardian Council, made up of clerics and experts in Islamic law and closely allied to Khamenei, must certify ballot results and has the apparent authority to nullify an election. But it would be an unprecedented step. Claims of voting irregularities went to the council after Ahmadinejad's upset victory in 2005, but there was no official word on the outcome of the inquiry, and the vote stood.

"It's a little difficult to imagine that they're going to do a good job, because the Council of Guardians is the organization that basically disqualifies anybody they don't like from the election," Gary Sick, a former White House advisor on Iran who is still considered one of the world's foremost experts on the country, explained to CBS News. "They have a history of taking a partisan position, so it's difficult to see them doing a serious investigation."

Sick pointed out, however, that given the furor generated by these election results and the fierce opposition from within the country, "there are a lot of people looking over their shoulders, and it may be harder to run a cover-up than it had appeared on the surface."

More likely, the dramatic intervention by Khamenei and the Guardian Council could buy time in hopes of reducing the anti-Ahmadinejad anger. The prospect of spiraling protests and clashes is the ultimate nightmare for the Islamic establishment, which could be forced into back-and-forth confrontations and risks having the dissidents move past the elected officials and directly target the ruling theocracy.

Sick told CBS News that Iran's regime may be finding it harder to "cover up" the purported election fraud than they expected.

"They anticipated that there would be an outburst of opposition, they would crack down hard - which they have done - people would back away and be intimidated and that would end it in a day or so. It hasn't worked that way," added Sick.

There was no immediate word from Mousavi on the announcement, but he said Monday he was not hopeful that the council would address his charges because he believes they are not neutral and have already indicated support for Ahmadinejad.