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Editorial: Iran election letdown

Sometimes you want something so badly that you convince yourself it is within your grasp even when, in truth, it remains elusive.

Sometimes you want something so badly that you convince yourself it is within your grasp even when, in truth, it remains elusive.

Such appears to be the case with the Iranian election. Especially in the West, but also among many Iranians, there was widespread belief that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be defeated Friday. Instead, he was declared a landslide winner.

Accusations of fraud notwithstanding, it is hard to see the outcome being reversed. The real power in Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Monday called for a review of the election results. But that's likely a gesture to placate the thousands protesting the election results.

It would be great to see Khamenei prove skeptics wrong when the election probe by Iran's Guardian Council is completed in about 10 days. But Ahmadinejad has been the ruling ayatollahs' boy since he was first handpicked to run for the presidency in 2005, and they're unlikely to ditch him now.

Especially not for Ahmadinejad's chief election rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was backed by two of Khamenei's longtime political adversaries - former presidents Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, whom Ahmadinejad beat four years ago, and Mohammed Khatami.

It's also possible that even a legitimate review of the election wouldn't change the outcome. One poll prior to the election, conducted for the Center for Public Opinion and an arm of the New America Foundation, showed Ahmadinejad ahead by a 2-1 ratio.

In a commentary for the Washington Post found on today's Inquirer oped page, the poll's sponsors said the election results may well "reflect the will of the people." But their poll also showed most Iranians want normal relations with the United States, and would agree to weapons inspections to deter nuclear arms production in exchange for aid and investment in their country.

Polling that shows most Iranians don't want their country to be an isolated rogue nation is why the Obama administration must continue with efforts to engage Iran diplomatically, even if Ahmadinejad remains president.

As Vice President Biden said Sunday, "Our interests are the same before the election as after the election."

Toward that end, while it is appropriate for Western nations to decry the possibility of fraud in the Iranian elections, it is also pragmatic to conclude that Ahmadinejad will be president and that he will be as belligerent as he has always been when it comes to Iran's nuclear ambitions and animosity toward Israel.

That won't change until enough Iranians present a challenge that no amount of election fraud will be able to deny.