President Obama: On Key Policies, Not Much Difference Between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi

By Caitlin Taylor

Jun 17, 2009 12:44pm

President Obama argued yesterday that there is little difference between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi on policies critical to the U.S.

“It's important to understand that although there is amazing ferment taking place in Iran, that the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as has been advertised,” the president told CNBC. “Either way, we were going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighborhood and is pursuing nuclear weapons. And so we've got long-term interests in having them not weaponize nuclear power and stop funding organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. And that would be true whoever came out on top in this election.”

In fact not only is Mousavi a supporter of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, International Atomic Energy Agency documents obtained by Ha’aretz newspaper indicate that Iran began its secret nuclear program during Mousavi’s previous tenure as prime minister when “Tehran decided in 1987 to purchase the centrifuges it is using to enrich uranium,” which were purchased on the black market
through Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan’s smuggling ring.

A profile of Mousavi in Germany’s Spiegel earlier this year – which noted that during his time as prime minister Mousavi “did not distinguish himself as a domestic political reformer. In fact, his term in office was marked by a sharp rise in the number of arrests” – Mousavi said that “we will not abandon the great achievements of Iranian scientists. I too will not suspend uranium enrichment.”

Asked how he is different from Ahmadinejad on nuclear weapons, Mousavi asked, “Must there always be fundamental differences between two candidates on vital national issues?” Mousavi also told Spiegel that he doesn’t recognize Israel.

But there do seem some key differences on other issues. For one, Mousavi seems far more willing to engage with the West.

“The language Mr. Obama uses is refreshingly different from that of his predecessor, George W. Bush,” he told Spiegel. “But actions must now follow. We will pay careful attention to what happens next. If his actions are in keeping with his words, why shouldn't we negotiate?…We want to see concrete steps. When that happens, trust can slowly be developed once again. We can contribute to this by moderating our tone. I support good relations with other countries. A policy of détente will be a central issue for me.”

Mousavi has expressed a desire for more openness.  "An approach that runs on the basis of 'keeping the influx of changes at bay' will irrefutably bring about the closure of newspapers, limitations on freedom in society and public detachment from national-religious leadership," he has said. "On the contrary, an approach that moves toward the recognition of changes, upholds values like sovereignty, liberty as well as peace. Such an approach would produce the right conditions for changes in the society and enable us to make the most of our opportunities.”

He’s also expressed support for greater rights for women in Iran. "We should reform laws that are unfair to women,” he has said

And his wife Zahra Rahnavard has been quoted saying that “we should prepare the ground for an Iran where women are treated without discrimination…We should reform laws that treat women unequally. We should empower women financially, women should be able to choose their professions according to their merits, and Iranian women should be able to reach the highest level of decision making bodies."

It’s unclear if Mousavi acknowledges the full reality of the Holocaust, just as Ahmadinejad denies it.

“ It is not a question of the number of people killed,” he said. “Nor is it a question of who committed the crimes. No matter who was responsible, we condemn them for it. But the issue is this: Why should the Palestinians have to pay for what happened back then in Europe?” he said that “we have a cemetery in Tehran where Polish immigrants are buried. They fled to Iran to escape the injustices at the time. Something must have happened.”

In a separate interview with the Associated Press Mousavi of the Holocaust, “some people were killed there, some Jews were killed there, we condemn the killing of a single innocent person.”


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