US says elections were 'flawed from the start'

The US administration yesterday continued to pour scorn on the victory of President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hardline former mayor of Tehran, making a further deterioration in the already threadbare diplomatic relationship between the Washington and Tehran apparently inevitable.

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, capped weeks of hostile rhetoric by referring to a "mock election" and saying Mr Ahmadinejad was "no friend of democracy".

A State Department statement called the elections "flawed from the inception".

The US has been criticised since the first round of the Iranian presidential election because it dismissed the process rather than offer encouragement to the leading reformist candidate, Mostafa Moin, who came fifth and failed to make the run-off.

Many neoconservatives close to the administration have made clear they are interested in regime change, not reform, and during the campaign called Mr Moin a "pseudo-reformer" who might be more dangerous than the hardliners.

Some liberal commentators suggested it might suit Washington to have an unambiguously hardline leadership in Tehran because it would give the administration a pretext to shun all dialogue with a country President George Bush named in his "axis of evil".

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