State Department Refuses to Comment on Iranian Elections in Fourth Consecutive Briefing

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The State Department has not commented on the parliamentary elections in Iran that maintained hardliners’ grip on power since they were held last Friday, citing the “preliminary” nature of the results.

While Western media has hailed the elections as a success for reformist candidates, experts say that the Iranian parliament will continue to be dominated by hardline, anti-American legislators.

Despite extensive media commentary on the issue, the State Department has declined to comment on the elections.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner answered with a definitive “No” on Feb. 26 when asked whether he had any comment about the elections.

“No?” the questioner asked, causing Toner to laugh at the bluntness of his own response.

“I mean—other than—that is we expect—I don’t get a pass on that?” Toner asked. He then echoed the Obama administration’s standard line that the United States hoped Iran would conduct free and fair elections.

“We hope Iran conducts its election in a manner that not only conforms to international standards of transparency and accountability, but also represents the will of the Iranian people,” Toner said.

When asked whether that would be possible for Iran, Toner said that he would not “prejudge the outcome yet.”

“Let’s let this thing run its course. Frankly, my understanding before coming out here was that polling stations were kept open,” Toner said. When pressed again on the outcome of the elections, Toner added only that “there are significant challenges within Iran given the political climate.”

“But I’m not going to say much beyond that,” Toner said.

State Department spokesman John Kirby was similarly coy when asked about the elections at the next briefing on Feb. 29, citing the ongoing nature of the election.

“We’re going to reserve judgment right now,” Kirby said. “The results of the elections are still being tallied as we understand it.”

He said that the administration has only seen “preliminary reporting of some of the results” but that the “official results” would be released March 1.

“It appears as if there’s going to be a number of runoff races, but I think we’re going to reserve judgment and further comment right now,” Kirby said.

He would not comment when asked about the conduct of the election, though he said that there appeared to be “good turnout” from reports he had seen.

The next day, Kirby again told reporters he would reserve judgment, despite saying on February 29 that official results would be released on March 1.

“As I understand it, the results are still preliminary. We’ve seen no definitive assessment out of Tehran,” Kirby said. “We are still reserving our judgment and comment as preliminary results continue to be tallied.”

On March 2, six days after the election, Toner repeated the same line he used on Feb. 26, saying that official results “would probably take weeks.”

“We’re not necessarily going to speak to the outcome of the election at this point in time. We’re going to wait for all the formal results to be tallied and officially announced,” Toner said.

Toner rejected any tie between the election outcome and the Iran nuclear deal, saying he would not comment on consequences, intended or otherwise, of the deal.

“Our focus in the Iran deal, and we’ve said this many, many, times, was keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That was our sole intent,” Toner said. “Whatever else may come from it—whether it’s greater cooperation with Iran in the region, whether it’s strengthening for President Rouhani on the ground in this political environment … I can’t really speak to that.”

Toner admitted that the U.S. often uses international observers to monitor foreign elections, but since Iran did not allow monitors it was difficult for the Obama administration to judge the election and its outcome.

“We don’t have the OSCE or some other international body saying, ‘these are free and fair, we declare them as such,’” Toner said. “So we’re still kind of formulating our overall assessment of the elections.”

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