“They, the leaders of Iran, must be concerned with the legitimacy of their regime in the eyes of their own electorate,” said Bildt, whose country currently holds the rotating European Union presidency.
“As to which conclusions that leads to, that remains to be seen,” he told members of the European parliament’s foreign affairs committee in Brussels.
When asked later whether he supported a call by Iranian reformists for a referendum, Bildt declined to answer, saying only that the Iranian authorities “will have to deal with these issues”.
Hardliners in the Islamic republic have denounced the call as a Western plot to cause more “havoc”, following the riots and crackdown that followed the June 12 election which returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.
The Association of Combatant Clerics, led by Ahmadinejad’s reformist predecessor Mohammad Khatami, on Monday urged a referendum to try to end the worst turmoil in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The EU became embroiled in the turmoil when it was accused of meddling by criticizing Tehran’s handling of the riots, and then British embassy staff were detained accused of involvement.
A French woman lecturer has also been jailed there on charges of spying.
“I wouldn’t exclude that there would be other similar cases,” Bildt said, noting close links between his own country Sweden and Iran.
“We must maintain links and contacts with the Iranian authorities,” he said.