The first comments of president-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad went down well with Iran's press yesterday, with independent and pro-reform newspapers highlighting his pledge to lead a "government of peace and moderation" and hard-line journals emphasizing his promise to follow the principles of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
In his post-election press conference, Ahmadinejad said Sunday that he would continue Iran's nuclear development and warned Iran's European negotiators that building trust would require a mutual effort. He rebuked an EU commissioner who spoke of freezing dialogue with Iran, saying Europe "cannot talk to the Iranian nation in such an arrogant manner."
Ahmadinejad entered the packed hall in Tehran's municipal building for the news conference with little fanfare, maintaining the unassuming style embraced by the roughly 17 million Iranians who voted the city's mayor to power in a landslide victory.
He fielded questions confidently and smiled broadly when asked by an Iranian female journalist wearing a colorful head scarf whether he would introduce a strict dress code.
It wasn't his job to decide, he said.
"I am the president. There are people who make those decisions," Ahmadinejad said. He appeared to be referring to the judiciary and the police, which enforce the law on the dress code.
In his opening statement, he promised to shun extremism and cobble together a moderate regime. The commitment was seized on by the pro-reform newspapers in their yesterday editions.
Asked about relations with the US, Ahmadinejad said Iran "is taking the path of progress based on self-reliance. It doesn't need the United States significantly on this path."
US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Sunday that Ahmadinejad was "no friend of democracy" and dismissed the vote as a "mock election."
"He is a person who is very much supportive of the current ayatollahs, who are telling the people of that country how to live their lives, and my guess is over time the young people and women will find him as well as his masters unacceptable," Rumsfeld told the US television show Fox News Sunday.
A key concern for the US is Iran's 20-year-old nuclear program, revealed in 2002.
The US alleges the program is aimed at building atomic weapons. Iran insists it is only interested in generating electricity. Uranium enriched to low levels has energy uses, while highly enriched uranium can be used in bombs.
Iran suspended all uranium enrichment-related activities in November to avoid possible sanctions from the UN Security Council, but it said all along the suspension was temporary. France, Britain and Germany have offered economic incentives in hopes of persuading Iran to permanently halt enrichment.
Ahmadinejad said the EU "should come down from its ivory tower and understand that they cannot talk to the Iranian nation in this way. We are ready for trust-building measures in all fields, but ... our nation is a great nation and they cannot talk to the Iranian nation in such an arrogant manner."
Western leaders are worried that relations with Iran may become increasingly strained under Ahmadinejad.
As Tehran mayor, he served as managing director of a newspaper affiliated with the municipality. He replaced pro-reformist journalists with conservative writers.
He also replaced most district mayors considered pro-reform.