SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
There's ferment and frustration in Iran today. The interior ministry there has declared that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has won reelection and in a landslide. His principle opponent, the moderate reformer Mir Hossein Mousavi, says that the election was a fraud.
The results have angered many Iranians. At least 2,000 demonstrators are reportedly on the streets of Tehran setting tires ablaze outside the interior ministry clashing with riot police. Iran's supreme leader has called Mr. Ahmadinejad's reelection, quote, "a divine assessment," and he went on state TV to urge the nation to unite behind him.
NPR's Mike Shuster is in Tehran. Michael, thanks for being with us.
MIKE SHUSTER: Hi, Scott.
SIMON: And what have you seen? What's going on?
SHUSTER: Well, actually, there are skirmishes all over the center part of the city now in Tehran. And I'm on Baliaster(ph) Street, which is kind of the Fifth Avenue of Tehran, and for a couple of miles there have been running battles now for hours with riot police.
It started with spontaneous demonstrations. I saw a demonstration of several hundred people come marching down this street, and then the riot police started to assemble themselves and started moving up and down the street on foot, mostly on motorcycle. They are clad in body armor. They wear helmets and face masks, they carry truncheons and nightsticks and they have been beating people in cars, on the sidewalks and on motorcycles for the last three or four hours just trying to clear the streets.
Every time they go by, the crowd gathers behind them and resumes their chants of death to the dictator or down with the dictator. Demonstrators have been burning trash in the streets. And there are now more and more riot police being added to it to try to regain control of what's become chaotic streets in central Tehran.
SIMON: The Ayatollah Khomeini's statement - at least on the surface - would seem to be the last word. Does Mr. Mousavi and his supporters have any legal recourse that's apparent?
SHUSTER: Not as far as I know. He proclaimed in effect that Ahmadinejad had won the election and so did the other governing bodies of the election - the interior ministry and a body known as the Guardian Council. It is hard to know whether Mr. Mousavi, Mir Hossein Mousavi, the challenger, and his followers have any legal recourse.
And I think that the people of Tehran and the rest of Iran are waiting to see what they're going to do.
SIMON: And any word from Mr. Mousavi?
SHUSTER: Only that he issued a statement and he said that he wouldn't participate in the charade and he wouldn't allow government by lies. Beyond this statement, his whereabouts are not clear and what he's going to do is not clear.
SIMON: NPR's Mike Shuster certainly has been covering the election campaign in Tehran and will stand by to cover it for the rest of the morning. Thank you very much, Michael, and please stand by with us.
SIMON: We're joined now by NPR News analyst Juan Williams, who's in the newsroom of the Baltimore Sun, which was kind of enough to accommodate us this morning. Hello, Juan.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: And let me ask you each in term - Mike, if you could go first - what perplexity does this create for the Obama administration? How do you extend the hand of friendship to a country where the regime is still in question? Michael?
SHUSTER: It seems to me, Scott, it's a big problem. President Obama's statements yesterday suggested that he was assuming that Mousavi would win, that there would be a sort of shift in politics here to a greater openness and more reform-oriented government that would be willing to talk to the United States.
There also was a feeling from, I think, news coverage over the past week that things were really changing in Iran and that politics and an election might actually shift course for Iran. And now that there has been this unexpected result - a landslide, an alleged landslide for Ahmadinejad - it's not clear to me - and that the reformers are going to challenge it - it's not clear to me what kind of opportunities President Obama and his administration have just now.
For the short term, they certainly will have to see what shakes out here.
WILLIAMS: Well, I think the international effort to try to restrain Iran's nuclear ambition really take a hit if the hardliners are going to remain in power in Iran. So for example, tomorrow, Sunday, in Israel, the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is supposed to give a speech in which he was going to respond to some of the Obama administration's concerns about how things are going in the Middle East, with specific concern about whether or not there should be a separate Palestinian state, would Netanyahu acknowledge that statehood is reality, about settlements and trying to pull the settlements back. But part of that also was Iranian support for Hamas.
And so here you have now Netanyahu going to step up tomorrow and potentially say, well, look, the hardliners remain in power, they remain people who are committed to building nuclear weapons, and they are committed to the destruction of Israel. So it plays, I think, for the Obama administration badly in the sense that it would simply heighten the tensions in the region rather than create any kind of diplomatic opening for a resolution.
SIMON: NPR's Mike Shuster, we're going to let you get back to covering the story there in Tehran. Thanks very much for being with us.
SHUSTER: Welcome, Scott.