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Iran Rejects Criticism As U.S. Sets Nuclear Talks Deadline

Iranian opposition suspects cover their faces during their second hearing at a revolutionary court in Tehran on August 8.
(RFE/RL) -- Iran is rejecting foreign criticism of the mass trial of opposition protesters, saying the condemnations smack of intervention in its internal affairs.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Gashghavi said his government will not tolerate any foreign interference with its domestic affairs. He said the Western criticism of the mass trial of protesters now going on in Tehran is "illegal."

Speaking on CNN on August 9, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said that what she called these "show trials" demonstrate how the leadership in Tehran is out of touch with the Iranian public over the validity of the June 12 presidential election.

That vote returned President Mahmud Ahmadinejad for a second term in office, but the opposition has charged fraud and has staged the biggest street demonstrations seen in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The deepening row is splitting the governing elite in Iran, with the latest salvo coming from senior Revolutionary Guards commmander Yadollah Javani, who has called for the arrest and trial of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi and Mahdi Karrubi, and former President Mohammad Khatami, over the postelection unrest.

The official IRNA news agency quotes Javani as saying that the reformist figures have led what he called a "velvet coup" aimed at toppling Iran's clerical rulers.

With all this going on around him, the man at the center of the storm, President Ahmadinejad, seems likely to be too distracted to take any foreign policy initiatives. And yet, that is exactly what is required in the coming weeks.

September Deadline

In an interview with U.S. television on August 9, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington will not wait much longer for Tehran to reply to its offer of direct talks on the nuclear issue within the UN Security Council's "five-plus-one" framework.

Clinton said the United States is resigned to having to deal with the next Ahmadinejad government. She said President Barack Obama has set a September deadline for Tehran to reply. If no response is forthcoming, he will consult allies at a summit of the G20 group of developed and developing nations late in September on the next step forward.

The United States has spoken of the possibility of fresh and severe sanctions against Iran, this time denying it imports of gasoline. Despite its huge crude oil reserves, Iran is an importer of refined oil products, and any effective embargo in this area would hit the economy hard.

But not all the parties involved, for instance Russia and China, favor further sanctions. Iran is already under three sets of UN sanctions, and they have clearly failed to force Iran back to the negotiating table. Clinton has said she is under no illusions that Iran will return to talks now.

Behind the diplomacy looms the threat of military action -- not so much from the United States, but from Israel, which sees Iran as a threat to its existence. The Israelis have already warned that they will not hesitate to attack Iran's nuclear sites to prevent that country from obtaining nuclear weapons.

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