News from Iran continues to dominate the papers this morning, as riots erupted for a second day in Tehran and several other cities. Security forces cracked down on protesters, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defended his supposed landslide victory. The main opposition candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, called on his supporters to continue protesting. A large rally is planned this afternoon, although it's unclear whether security forces will allow it to go forward. The Washington Postreports that gunshots were "heard in several locations in Tehran" yesterday. The Los Angeles Timespoints out that it's unclear whether Mousavi was under house arrest yesterday. The Wall Street Journalcalls the clashes "the biggest domestic unrest since authorities put down student riots at Tehran University a decade ago." The New York Timespoints out that while dismissing the opposition's complaints about the elections, Ahmadinejad criticized Mousavi "in a veiled statement that many here saw as a threat."
USA Todaygoes high with the news out of Iran but devotes its traditional lead space to a look at how NASA's delays in launching space missions can end up costing taxpayers millions of dollars. The space shuttle Endeavour was supposed to launch Saturday but was delayed until Wednesday, the same day an unmanned satellite to the moon was supposed to be launched. When there's a delay, NASA must continue to pay contract workers who are in charge of the project, and the costs quickly add up.
Mousavi and another opposition candidate appealed to the Guardian Council—a 12-member commission made up of appointed clerics that supervises the government and must certify the election—to nullify the election results due to widespread fraud. The LAT says it's highly unlikely the appeal will be successful, considering that the council is appointed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The NYT points out that a moderate clerical body, the Association of Combatant Clergy, also called for the vote to be annulled. While it's hard to say what kind of effect the statement will have "in Iran's complex and opaque power structure," Ayatollah Khamenei "is sensitive to clerical opinion."
Early-morning wire stories report that Khamenei has ordered the Guardian Council to look into allegations of election fraud. This marks a "stunning turnaround" for the supreme leader, who had urged Iranians to get behind Ahmadinejad and called the result a "divine assessment."
By all accounts, the clashes between police and demonstrators were often brutal. At least 160 demonstrators have been detained. The WSJ describes a vivid scene at Tehran University in which police ran toward a group of students who were exchanging stories, "threw one man to the ground and began beating him as he screamed." Close by, Ahmadinejad held his victory rally, where "the smell of tear gas and smoke drifted over the cheering crowds," notes the NYT, pointing out that only a few blocks away, "bloodied and screaming" protesters "could be seen running from police officers armed with clubs." Supporters of the president characterized the protesters as "sore losers," as one 23-year-old woman put it. Cell phone service continued to be cut on Sunday. But at 9 p.m., Mousavi supporters found a way to connect with one another by going to rooftops and balconies and shouting "God is great! Death to the dictator!" which was the rallying cry used in the weeks leading up to the 1979 revolution.
Some Western leaders expressed concern over the election result, but the Obama administration "remained cautious, worried that their words could taint the opposition as American stooges," notes the LAT. Vice President Joe Biden said there appeared to be "some real doubt" about the election results but the administration would "wait and see" before making any definitive statements. "The Obama administration has handled this pretty well," an Iran expert tells USAT. "There's nothing we can do in a proactive way that is going to improve things."
In a front-page analysis, the WP notes that the "cautious response" from the White House illustrates "the balance that the Obama administration is seeking between condemning what increasingly appears to be a fraudulent election and the likelihood that it will be dealing with Ahmadinejad after the dust settles." But even as Biden pointed out that negotiations with Iran should be pursued regardless of who is declared the winner, it's clear that many more are likely to push for isolating Iran if the election is largely seen as a fraud. "How the Iranian electorate responds will probably shape the Obama administration's next steps," notes the Post. "For now, as Biden indicated, the administration is watching."
The NYT's executive editor, Bill Keller, continues his dispatches from Tehran, and in an analysis piece co-written with Michael Slackman from Cairo, they say the election only helped to cement the president's power. "Ahmadinejad is the shrewd and ruthless front man for a clerical, military and political elite that is more unified and emboldened than at any time since the 1979 revolution." Of course, Ayatollah Khamenei remains the country's true leader, but Ahmadinejad has always been loyal to him, and with these elections they seem "to have neutralized for now the reform forces that they saw as a threat to their power."
The LAT, WSJ, and NYT front a speech yesterday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he, for the first time, said he would support the idea of a Palestinian state. It was supposed to signal that his government is open to compromise, but Netanyahu put so many conditions on what kind of Palestinian state would be acceptable that Palestinian leaders immediately dismissed his supposed concession as mere theatrics. Indeed, the WSJ notes that Netanyahu's words "don't mark a big shift in Israeli policy, because previous prime ministers have supported Palestinian statehood." Netanyahu also added that a Palestinian state can't have its own military and needs to recognize Israel as a Jewish state that has Jerusalem as its capital. He also rejected calls from the White House to freeze settlement growth in the West Bank. Despite these caveats, the LAT says Netanyahu's remarks still "marked a watershed" considering that he had previously "spent more than two decades in public life rejecting a 'two-state solution.' "
In a speech that was supposed to at least partly be seen as a response to Obama's address in Cairo, Egypt, Netanyahu didn't focus as much attention on Iran as many had expected. But he did state that the threat from a nuclear-armed Iran was "the greatest danger confronting Israel, the Middle East, the entire world and human race."