White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs caused quite a stir yesterday when he referred to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the “elected leader” of Iran—this in spite of all the violent protests over June’s disputed election results in that country. Opponents say Ahmadinejad stole the election, but nonetheless, he was sworn in today for a second term as president of Iran. While countries like Russia were quick to congratulate Ahmadinejad on his re-election, the U.S. and other allies have been careful not to get mired in the electoral dispute. For instance, France this week emphasized that they recognize states, not particular governments. This afternoon, Gibbs retracted his “elected leader” comment and said it was not for him or the U.S. to judge whether Ahmadinejad was legitimate but up to the Iranian people. “He’s been inaugurated, that’s a fact,” Gibbs told reporters on Air Force One. “it's not for me or for us to denote his legitimacy, except to acknowledge the fact.” Here’s Gibbs’s full remarks:
Q: Switching topics slightly and then we might go back to North Korea. Do you have any reaction to the swearing-in of President Ahmadinejad in Iran today?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me correct a little bit of what I said yesterday. I denoted that Mr. Ahmadinejad was the elected leader of Iran. I would say it's not for me to pass judgment on. He's been inaugurated, that's a fact. Whether any election was fair, obviously the Iranian people still have questions about that and we'll let them decide that. But I would simply say he's been inaugurated, and we know that is simply a fact.
Q: Do you recognize him as the leader, elected fairly or not?
MR. GIBBS: It's not for—it's not for me or for us to denote his legitimacy, except to acknowledge the fact.
Q: Does the White House believe the election was fair?
MR. GIBBS: That's not for us to pass judgment on. I think that's for the Iranian people to decide, and obviously there are many that still have a lot of questions.