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Ahmadinejad answers Obama’s rebuke in kind

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Iran’s president rebuked his American counterpart Saturday as the two countries fell back into a familiar pattern of back-and-forth barbs that may imperil the Obama administration’s plans to open a direct dialogue with Tehran over its nuclear program.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded to President Obama’s criticism of the Islamic Republic’s crackdown on dissenters during the civil unrest sparked by dispute over his reelection.

On Friday, answering Ahmadinejad’s demand that the United States stay out of Iran’s affairs, Obama urged the Iranian president “to consider looking at the families of those who’ve been beaten or shot or detained.”

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Emerging from a period of relative quiet, Ahmadinejad criticized Obama for making “unconventional, abnormal and discourteous comments” in condemning the violence and political repression.

Though Tehran’s streets have quieted down, the aftershocks of the disputed election continue. At 10 p.m. Saturday, some residents of the capital climbed to their rooftops and chanted “God is Great!” in a recurring symbolic act of defiance in support of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who was defeated in an election many Iranians and independent experts consider fraudulent.

New York-based Human Rights Watch alleged in a report issued Saturday that pro-government Basiji militiamen have been storming neighborhoods, damaging private properties and assaulting civilians in an attempt to stop the nightly chants, which are reminiscent of protests that erupted in the months that led to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Late Friday, the Guardian Council announced that some ballots from the June 12 vote would be examined by a special committee of six distinguished officials and representatives from the campaigns of Mousavi and another presidential candidate, Mehdi Karroubi. But both candidates announced Saturday that they rejected the partial recount, demanding that the entire result be nullified, according to statements on their websites.

Mohsen Rezai, a conservative candidate who had withdrawn his complaints about the election, asked to be allowed to place a representative on the committee.

The Mehr news agency Saturday quoted a lawmaker who said that Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful cleric who is Mousavi’s patron, has voiced support for supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has publicly backed Ahmadinejad.

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Another report by Mehr, which is close to Khamenei, said a council controlled by Rafsanjani is urging all candidates to adhere to the law over the disputed election. But the report could not be confirmed, and analysts said both reports might be disinformation or an attempt to anger Rafsanjani and coax him back into the fold.

After days of caution, Obama on Friday spoke out forcefully against the Iranian government’s conduct after dozens of journalists, activists and associates of Mousavi had been swept up by security forces.

The Obama administration hoped to broach talks with Tehran this year to resolve a long-standing dispute over Iran’s nuclear research program. The postelection violence makes it politically difficult for U.S. officials to have contact with Iranian officials. After welcoming Iranian diplomats to join in Fourth of July celebrations at U.S. embassies, the Obama administration rescinded the invitations.

Analysts say Ahmadinejad draws domestic political strength when he is under attack internationally.

“If you continue your meddlesome stance, the Iranian nation’s response will be crushing and regret-inducing,” Ahmadinejad warned Obama.

“They constantly say that they want to talk with Iran,” Ahmadinejad said in an address to judiciary officials. “We have announced our readiness. But do they expect us to talk with such comments? He made a mistake.”

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Ahmadinejad repeated his urging that Obama avoid following in the footsteps of former President George W. Bush.

“He also used to speak to the world from a position of arrogance and egotism, but you saw how God brought him down to abjectness and buried him in the dustbin of history,” he said in comments broadcast on state radio.

“We do not expect much from those few European countries because they do not enjoy any particular status in the world,” he said.

“However, we are surprised at Mr. Obama.”

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daragahi@latimes.com

Special correspondent Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran contributed to this report.

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