Kerry blasts Iranian election maneuvering

Associated Press
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, Israel, Thursday, May 23, 2013. The US and Israel raised hopes Thursday for a restart of the Middle East peace process, despite little tangible progress so far from Kerry's two-month-old effort to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.  (AP Photo/Jim Young, Pool)
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, Israel, Thursday, May 23, 2013. The US and Israel raised hopes Thursday for a restart of the Middle East peace process, despite little tangible progress so far from Kerry's two-month-old effort to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. (AP Photo/Jim Young, Pool)

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry harshly criticized Iranian authorities on Friday for eliminating hundreds of presidential candidates, suggesting that Tehran is standing in the way of legitimate, representative democracy.

Among those disqualified earlier this week by Iran's Guardian Council was former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The purge was seen as a demoralizing blow to pro-reform groups, and Kerry declared himself "amazed" by a process under which an unelected body, accountable to no one, picked candidates "based solely on who represents the regime's interests, rather than who might represent some different point of view from the Iranian people."

"That is hardly an election by which most people in most countries judge free, fair and accessible, accountable elections," Kerry told reporters in Tel Aviv after two days of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. "The lack of transparency makes it highly unlikely that that slate of candidates is either going to represent the broad will of the iranian people, or represent a change."

Kerry also addressed the shared U.S.-Israeli concern over Iran's nuclear program, a major element of his talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

Addressing a recent report of the U.N. nuclear agency that was highly critical of Iran, Kerry said the U.S. still hoped that the Islamic republic's leadership would enter serious negotiations over its nuclear program.

The U.S., Israel and its partners fear Iran may be trying to develop nuclear weapons. The Islamic republic insists it is only enriching uranium for peaceful energy and medical research purposes.

"The clock is clearly ticking," Kerry said. "Our hope is for the sake of the region, the world and the Iranian people themselves that we can have a peaceful resolution. But it is going to have to be demonstrated much more affirmatively than it has been to date that Iran is interested in that kind of solution and that they are indeed prepared to prove that their program is peaceful."

In addition to his criticism of the election process, Kerry lamented "troubling signs" that the Iranian government is cutting off Internet access to stifle criticism of how candidates were chosen.

"Ultimately the Iranian people will be prevented not only from choosing someone who might reflect their point of view, but also taking part in a way that is essential to a kind of legitimate democracy," he said.

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