Secretary Clinton Expresses Concern over Growing Military Influence in Iran

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concern over the rising influence of the military in Iran. In an exclusive interview with "This Week" anchor Christiane Amanpour, Clinton said, "We saw a very flawed election and we've seen the elected officials turn for the military to enforce their power." Clinton added, "I can only hope that there will be some effort inside Iran, by responsible civil and religious leaders to take hold of the apparatus of the state."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a separate interview with Amanpour, flatly rejected the suggestion that his regime is becoming militarized. "Don't you think that Ms. Clinton should think a little before she makes statements of such nature? I think Ms. Clinton is a very respected woman but she should really gather more correct information to base her statements on accurate information," he said.

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Ahmadinejad sat down for the exclusive wide-ranging interview with Amanpour on Saturday evening, shortly after arriving in New York for this week's United Nations General Assembly meetings.

Amanpour pressed the Iranian president on whether he would intervene to release two American hikers who remain in Iranian custody and are accused of spying. A third hiker, Sarah Shourd was released Tuesday after more than a year of being detained in what Ahmadinejad called a "huge humanitarian gesture." For the remaining hikers, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, Ahmadinejad said it's a matter for the judicial system, but he appeared to have already rendered a verdict. "They violated the law. Do you want violators to be released? Is that what you are asking me?"

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Iran has faced tough economic sanctions from the international community as part of an effort to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions. Ahmadinejad told Amanpour that the sanctions are "meaningless." He did, however, suggest Iran is open for a dialogue with the P5 Plus One forum, a group composed of representatives from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany.

"Yes, we will have a plan to discuss things. ... We've always been ready to discuss issues as long as they are within the legal framework and based on principles of justice and respect," he said.

Secretary Clinton said in her earlier interview that she knew of no meeting the Iranians had agreed to attend, but that the U.S. "stand[s] ready to engage with Iran." The interview took place Thursday in Jerusalem where Clinton was attending the Middle East peace talks.

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On the issue of human rights, Amanpour asked the Iranian leader for his opinion on stoning. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old Iranian mother of two faced the brutal sentence of death by stoning after being charged with adultery. Ahmedinejad denied that such a sentence was ever issued, though he acknowledged that the practice of stoning is "an ancient method that needs to change."

Asked about remarks attributed to former Cuban president Fidel Castro by journalist Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic that Ahmadinejad stop "slandering the Jews," Ahmadinejad said, "Well, shouldn't he be free to say what he wants?"

The Iranian president who has called for the destruction of Israel added, "We've never been anti-Semitic."

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