U.S. concerned with Iran's president-elect’s past

The United States didn’t even try to hide their discontent with the outcome of presidential election in Iran - U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld speaking outright after the results were counted called the winner conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "no friend of democracy" and dismissed the vote as a "mock election." No wonder, the White House has been eager to discuss the allegations of five former American hostages who say Iran's president-elect was one of their captors in the late 1970s.

Former hostages Chuck Scott, David Roeder, William J. Daugherty and Don A. Sharer told The Associated Press that after seeing President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on television, they have no doubt he was one of the hostage-takers. A fifth former hostage, Kevin Hermening, said he reached the same conclusion after looking at photos. A close aide to Ahmadinejad denied the president-elect took part in the seizure of the embassy or in holding Americans hostage.

Militant students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979, and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days to protest Washington's refusal to hand over the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi for trial. The shah fled Iran earlier that year after he was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution.

"I think the news reports and statements from several former American hostages raise many questions about his past," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan. "We take them very seriously and we are looking into them to better understand the facts."

McClellan said the president was asked about the allegation in an interview with The Times of London conducted Wednesday and published Thursday. A transcript on the newspaper's Web site shows Bush did not comment directly on any role Ahmadinejad may have had with the hostage takers, but said "time will tell" whether the United States and its allies will be able to work with him.

It is significant, that another former hostage, retired Air Force Col. Thomas E. Schaefer, said he doesn't recognize Ahmadinejad as one of his captors. Several former students among the hostage-takers also said Ahmadinejad did not participate.

According to Reuters, two leading figures in the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Iran also denied on Thursday reports president-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took part in the hostage crisis.

"Ahmadinejad was not among those who occupied the American embassy after the revolution," said Abbas Abdi, who helped to orchestrate the raid on the embassy and the seizure of its staff after the Islamic revolution.

The Times said Ahmadinejad was a 23-year-old university student at the time of the takeover in November 1979 and was a founding member of the radical student group that organised the storming of the U.S. Embassy compound. Mohsen Mirdamadi, another ringleader of the hostage-taking drama in Tehran, rejected the Times report.

President Ahmadinejad's office has strongly denied the reports, said BBC.

A key concern for the United States is Iran's 20-year-old nuclear program, revealed in 2002.

The United States allege the program is aimed at building atomic weapons. Iran insists it is only interested in generating electricity. Uranium enriched to low levels has energy uses, while highly enriched uranium can be used in bombs.

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