WASHINGTON -- Offering praise for Iranians and reproaching their government, the Obama administration said Saturday it respected the results of a presidential election conducted under restrictive conditions.
Shortly after moderate cleric Hasan Rowhani was declared the winner, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. congratulated Iranians for their courage in voting. He said Iranians were determined to make their voices heard despite the limitations the ruling government imposed on the political process.
The election "took place against the backdrop of a lack of transparency, censorship of the media, Internet, and text messages, and an intimidating security environment that limited freedom of expression and assembly," Carney said in a statement. He added that despite those obstacles, "the Iranian people were determined to act to shape their future."
The stunning surge in Friday's election behind Rowhani, a former nuclear negotiator, was perceived by supporters as a rebuke to hard-line policies that have left Iran diplomatically and economically isolated. The U.S. and other nations have used penalties to undercut Tehran's disputed nuclear program.
Iran's ruling clerics barred more prominent reform candidates from the ballot, leaving a group of mostly staunch loyalists to the Islamic establishment. Iran's opposition settled on Rowhani as the least objectionable, making the 64-year-old cleric the de facto candidate for reform-minded Iranians.
"It is our hope that the Iranian government will heed the will of the Iranian people and make responsible choices that create a better future for all Iranians," Carney said. Signaling that the election has not changed the administration's stance, Carney said the U.S. is still willing to engage Tehran directly to find a diplomatic solution to concerns about Iran's nuclear program.
The U.S. has been ramping up efforts geared toward persuading Iran to prove its nuclear program is peaceful. The U.S. believes Iran is working to develop nuclear weapons, a charge that Iran denies.
But the strict limitations the regime placed on who could compete in the election dampened U.S. hopes that a postelection Iran would pursue a different course. Secretary of State John Kerry said last month he wasn't optimistic that the election would produce any change in Iran's nuclear ambitions.