Obama scoffs at Ahmadinejad apology demand

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama said he won’t apologize to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for criticizing the Iranian government’s crackdown on protesters.

"I don’t take Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statements seriously about apologies, particularly given the fact that the United States has gone out of its way not to interfere with the election process in Iran," Obama said at a news conference Friday after meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "I would suggest that Mr. Ahmadinejad think carefully about the obligations he owes to his own people. And he might want to consider looking at the families of those who have been beaten or shot or detained."

In a speech Thursday, Ahmadinejad demanded Obama apologize for "interfering" in Iranian affairs and accused him of acting like his U.S. predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama did say that he still expected there to be "multilateral discussions" with Iran centered on its nuclear program, although the prospect of direct U.S.-Iranian talks was more questionable.

"There is no doubt that any direct dialogue or diplomacy with Iran is going to be affected by the events of the last several weeks," said Obama, adding that "we have to also be steady in recognizing that the prospect of Iran with a nuclear weapon is a big problem and that we’ve got to work in concert with the international community to try to prevent that from happening."

During their meeting, Obama said he and Merkel also discussed the broader Middle East "and the need for all parties to redouble their efforts to achieve lasting peace."

"Going forward, Germany will remain a critical partner in our efforts to bring safety and security to Israelis, the Arab states and Palestinians, who must reject violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist."

"It is very desirable," said Merkel, "that the peace process in the Middle East gains momentum, that there is progress, visible progress here, because that, too, might send a positive message to those forces in the Middle East who are not ready to be peaceful."

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