WASHINGTON (AP) – The Obama administration again chose caution over condemnation in its comments Thursday on the Iranian election crisis, a careful tack followed by other democratic nations anxious not to damage prospects for engaging whatever government emerges.

Around the globe, most nations called for the will of the Iranian people to be respected without overtly taking a side. Authoritarian governments made little mention of the chaos, while activists spoke more harshly of the Iranian leadership, condemning alleged vote-rigging and the heavy-handed response of security forces.

President Barack Obama and his aides have repeatedly urged Iranian authorities to allow “robust debate” between supporters of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and those of moderate Mir Hossein Mousavi. They have also urged Tehran to deal transparently with allegations of election fraud but have stopped short of endorsing protesters’ complaints.

The president has expressed “concern for the way the election was conducted and concern to ensure that demonstrators can peaceably carry out their demonstrations,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday.

At the State Department, spokesman P.J. Crowley said: “This is really about the Iranians and the relationship between the Iranian people and the Iranian government. This is not about the United States.”

Tehran’s allies and other countries that have done business with Iran stayed low-key or supportive of the regime, whose nuclear activities and involvement in regional conflicts have alarmed the West for years.

Chinese state media reported that President Hu Jintao congratulated Ahmadinejad at a regional gathering in Russia earlier this week. Asked Thursday whether that indicated China accepted the election results as legitimate, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, “We respect the choice of the Iranian people.”

But editorials in state media were far more blunt, chastising the U.S. for what it claimed was intervention in Iranian politics.

“The international community, on its part, has to leave Iran’s internal problems to the Iranian people, and accept their verdict,” the official China Daily said in an editorial Thursday.

In communist Cuba, state-controlled media provided extensive coverage, photos and video images of Ahmadinejad declaring electoral victory, and rallies supporting him. There was no mention of massive opposition protests.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s government has alluded to the West in its criticism of alleged efforts to discredit Iranian institutions.

“We condemn these acts of interference in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry said.

Mindful of such accusations, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the Iranian people must choose their own leaders. Britain, he said, would “not fall into the trap of allowing anyone to say that Britain or the United States is trying to choose the government of Iran.”

London has a large Iranian population, and Mousavi supporters have held noisy protests outside the Iranian embassy. But British politicians have steered clear of declaring either candidate the election winner.

“This is not a split between Iran and the West, these are deep debates, even divisions that are happening within Iran and in some ways within the upper reaches of the regime,” Miliband said.

Israel, a longtime foe of Iran, has described the government there as repressive. But Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Thursday that there is a policy not to comment further on the situation in Iran because “we don’t want it to even appear that we have anything to do with what is going on there.”

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered one of the West’s strongest condemnations of Iran’s government, calling its behavior “unacceptable” and urging it to respect human rights and democracy.

Similarly, French President Nicolas Sarkozy denounced the Iranian government’s “brutal” reaction to demonstrators protesting the disputed election.

Italy has said a months-old invitation for Iran to participate at a G-8 foreign ministers in Trieste June 26-27 still stands despite the uncertainty over the election. World leaders hope Iran can contribute to the stabilization of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai called Ahmadinejad two days after the vote to congratulate the Iranian president on his victory. Karzai lauded the large turnout and congratulated the Iranian people “for making a decision about their destiny,” according to a statement from the presidential palace.

India, which has long maintained good relations with Tehran – in part due to long historical ties and partly due to India’s energy dependance – has been silent on the elections in Iran.

AP-ES-06-18-09 1852EDT

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