Iran's new president a blow to US foreign policy
The landslide victory of the conservative mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in Iran's presidential poll has thwarted US hopes of a satisfactory resolution to the nuclear standoff between the two nations. It has also challenged the effectiveness of America's aggressive foreign policy stance in the region.
Western analysts were caught off guard by the scale of the defeat of moderate ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, whose political pragmatism and dialogue with progressive students over democratisation held out hopes for further change in Iran.
Mr Ahmadinejad won the run-off in the two-stage election with 62 per cent of the 22 million votes cast on a turnout of 47 per cent. The average turnout in the two contests was 55 per cent. US commentators immediately claimed that this ëlow poll' questions the legitimacy of the result, which was not one they expected or wanted.
But Tehran has hit back by pointing out that even the comparatively high 2004 US federal turnout of 60 per cent was lower than Iran's first round figure of 62% - and that the 2000 American election was ëwon' by the presidential candidate with fewer votes amidst widespread rigging allegations and a poll of just over 51 per cent.
Though US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has to some extent mitigated her tough ideological image through straight talking diplomacy, the overall image of the US - especially in the Muslim world - has continued to plummet in recent months.
President Bush's confrontational foreign policy based on military intervention is widely seen as having backfired - with the insurgency in Iraq claiming hundreds of lives each week, a recent CIA report admitting the emergence of a new breed of mobile Islamic jihadists, the Taleban reconfiguring in Afghanistan, and now a serious reversal of the reform movement in Iran.
European nations, many of them sceptical or hostile towards the US-led invasion of Iraq, have long been urging a more open and pragmatic approach towards Iran on the part of the White House. But they have mostly been ignored.
Regional commentators say that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory is due to a number of factors - his appeal to poor voters and those opposing corruption, his defiance of what is seen as US aggression, and his positioning as an Iranian nationalist aligned to conservative Islamic forces but not imprisoned by them.
The US State Department declared a few hours ago that the result was 'out of step with moves towards democracy in the region.' They are also pointing towards 300 complaints about voting irregularities raised by Rafsanjani backers.
A spokesperson for the new Iranian president declared: 'The US position is unprincipled. To them a country is only democratic if it elects people they agree with.'
Christians and other minority groups in Iran are wondering what the future will hold for them under the new, hard-line presidency.
The majority of Iran's 250,000 Christian population are members of the Armenian Orthodox Church, with others belonging to Assyrian Church of the East. There are also small numbers of Chaldean Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants.
Persians, Parthians and Medes were among the first new Christian converts at Pentecost. Since then there had been a continuous minority Christian presence in Iran.
The Armenian Church has a recognised status, though its activities are carefully controlled. Protestant Christianity is seen as Western-aligned and treated accordingly.