The events surrounding the contested election in Iran have drawn strong reactions from political leaders around the world. Among them is U.S. Senator John McCain, the Republican candidate for U.S. president in 2008 and a man known for his expertise in foreign and military affairs. McCain spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Andrew F. Tully in Washington.
RFE/RL: Senator McCain, do you feel that the Iranian government is sincere in its offer to recount some of the disputed ballots?
John McCain: I believe the Iranian government saying they would have a recount is putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. They're the ones that orchestrated this sham election, and they are the ones that would be the [least] qualified to hold an honest recount.
RFE/RL: There were unconfirmed reports from Tehran yesterday that the demonstrations became bloody after some demonstrators threatened the Basij militia at one of its compounds with containers of gasoline, prompting gunfire from within the building. In light of this, how would you advise Iran's opposition to protest the election's outcome?
McCain: I would advise Iran's opposition to peacefully demonstrate. But I've seen too many pictures on the Internet and on the (television) networks of the secret police with clubs beating men and women, and practicing the kind of brutality that characterizes that kind of dictatorship and Iranian government behavior in the past.
RFE/RL: After such a questionable vote count, is there still room for the Obama administration to properly engage the Iranian government?
McCain: I think it's fine if we engage the Iranian government, but a fundamental principle of American foreign policy is to call for free and fair elections to allow the people their basic, God-given, humanitarian rights. And the events of this election indicate that you've not only got a country that's on the path to acquisition of nuclear weapons and is a threat to its neighbors, but also represses and oppresses its people.
So [Obama] should make his first priority a demand for a free and fair election so that the people of Iran have their God-given rights.
RFE/RL: Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is cautioning the Obama administration to get no further involved in the disputed election. He says that might generate even further "ill-will" between the two countries. Do you agree?
McCain: I have great respect for Senator Lugar. I'm sure that this was the same comment that was made when President [Ronald] Reagan went to Berlin and said, "Take down this wall." I've seen this movie before. America stands for freedom, for democracy, and after the wall came down, the people who resided on the other side said America was a beacon of hope for them in their struggle against brutality and oppression. We must be a symbol of hope for the Iranian people, who are oppressed by a brutal, radical dictatorship.
RFE/RL: The demonstrations in Tehran and in other Iranian cities are the largest since the 1979 revolution that deposed the shah. Only this time, the protesters’ target isn't the United States but the Iranian government itself. Is this the right time for Washington to intensify its diplomatic outreach to Iran's democracy advocates?
McCain: I think the role for the United States of America is to reiterate in as strong a term as possible that we expect the people of Iran -- and people throughout the world -- to be able to have a free and fair election. And we will support that as a fundamental principle. And our relations with Iran on other issues -- whether it be nuclear weapons or their export of weapons into Iraq that have killed Americans in the past -- are issues that are of importance.
But to stand up for the people of Iran when they have just been deprived of the ability to conduct a free and fair election is the appropriate way to do it.