Asked if the White House considered Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's newly inaugurated government "legitimate," Obama's Press Secretary Robert Gibbs ducked and weaved, evaded the question, and finally, under pressure, acknowledged that he was indeed considered him "the elected leader" of Iran. State media in Iran rejoiced, headlining the story on the Farsi-language IRNA website and their English-language propaganda channel PressTV. As Newsweek blogger Holly Bailey observed, France "emphasized that they recognize states, not particular governments."
After the blogosphere exploded (Andrew Sullivan demanded a retraction and apology), Gibbs walked back from his comments today in typical Lionel Hutz fashion, still not quite managing to confess that Iran is ruled by election-stealing thugs:
Q: Switching topics slightly and then we might go back to North Korea. Do you have any reaction to the swearing-in of President Ahmadinejad in Iran today?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me correct a little bit of what I said yesterday. I denoted that Mr. Ahmadinejad was the elected leader of Iran. I would say it's not for me to pass judgment on. He's been inaugurated, that's a fact. Whether any election was fair, obviously the Iranian people still have questions about that and we'll let them decide that. But I would simply say he's been inaugurated, and we know that is simply a fact.
Q: Do you recognize him as the leader, elected fairly or not?
MR. GIBBS: It's not for—it's not for me or for us to denote his legitimacy, except to acknowledge the fact.
Q: Does the White House believe the election was fair?
MR. GIBBS: That's not for us to pass judgment on. I think that's for the Iranian people to decide, and obviously there are many that still have a lot of questions.