Bush: Claims against Iran's new president raise many questions

Ahmadinejad did not take part in holding U.S. hostages, his supporters say.

Associated Press
Published July 1, 2005

WASHINGTON - The White House said Thursday it was investigating whether Iran's new president played a role in seizing the American Embassy and holding 52 U.S. captives a quarter century ago. President Bush said the allegation by former hostages "raises many questions."

The administration was reviewing its files on Iranian President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after the hostage accusations came to light.

"I have no information, but obviously his involvement raises many questions," Bush said in an interview with foreign reporters. The administration said it would have to deal with Ahmadinejad, regardless of his past.

Ahmadinejad has been the mayor of Tehran and, according to his associates, was a member of the radical student group that planned the embassy takeover in 1979. But his associates say he opposed the plan and did not take part in holding hostages because he preferred instead to target the Soviet Embassy.

Six former hostages have said they recognized Ahmadinejad from television coverage and photos as one of their captors during the 444-day ordeal.

William A. Gallegos, who lives in suburban Denver, wrote in an e-mail concerning Ahmadinejad: "I remember him being one of the leaders at the beginning of the takeover. He was also present during my interrogations. He did not take part, but was present in the background and he always seemed to be in charge of the guards who watched over us."

It was unclear whether the administration had explored previously whether Ahmadinejad was involved in the hostage episode. National security adviser Stephen Hadley said the United States has followed his career. "Obviously, one of the things you do when you get a report like this is look back and see what you have in the files, and that's the process that's going on now," Hadley said.

Militant students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979, and held the U.S. hostages in reprisal for Washington's refusal to surrender ousted Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi for trial. The shah had fled Iran earlier that year after he was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution.

Ahmadinejad resembles a thin, bearded man pictured on Nov. 9, 1979, holding the arm of a blindfolded hostage and displaying him to the crowd outside the embassy.

Hadley said the White House was looking into the photographs and had not reached any conclusions. "They are allegations at the present time," he said. "We need to get the facts."

Hadley said the United States would have to deal with Ahmadinejad, even if the administration did not approve of the way he was elected. Bush denounced the election earlier this month, saying it was designed to maintain power in the hands of an unelected few.

Bush said his primary concern, however, was to to ensure that Britain, France and Germany, who have been negotiating with Iran to stop its alleged nuclear ambitions, make clear to Ahmadinejad that a nuclear-armed Iran will not be tolerated.