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Is Obama's tough talk enough to help Iran's protesters?

President Obama on Tuesday chastised Iran for seeking to stifle protesters with beatings and tear gas. Some critics say he needs to act more forcefully against Iran's theocratic government.

By Staff writer / February 15, 2011

During a news conference at the White House Tuesday, President Barack Obama spoke in support of nonviolent demonstrators in Iran, but stopped short of calling for an overthrow of the Iranian government.

Charles Dharapak/AP

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Washington

President Obama on Tuesday spoke carefully about demonstrations in Iran, lending support to peaceful Iranian protesters but refraining from calling for the overthrow of the current Tehran regime.

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It’s ironic that Iran’s leaders have celebrated the Egyptian revolution that brought down Hosni Mubarak, while in turn beating and tear-gassing those in their own country who want political change, said the US chief executive. In recent days, tens of thousands of Iranians inspired by events in Egypt have taken to the streets, but security forces have responded with violence, leaving dozens injured and at least one demonstrator dead.

“My hope and expectation is that we’re going to continue to see the people of Iran have the courage to be able to express their yearning for greater freedoms and a more representative government, understanding that America cannot ultimately dictate what happens inside of Iran any more than it could inside of Egypt,” said Mr. Obama at a White House press conference.

Should the US respond more forcefully to what’s happening in Iran? Some critics say yes, arguing that the White House is fumbling an opportunity to take a clear stand in favor of uprooting Iran’s theocratic government.

This timidity is a repetition of the events of 2009, when Green Revolution protests erupted in Iran but the US said little, according to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) of Florida, the new House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman.

“The regime’s oppression of the Iranian people has only grown since the rigged elections and suppressed demonstrations of 2009. The US made a mistake then by not voicing full and vigorous support for Iranians demanding freedom and democracy. We cannot make that mistake again,” said Representative Ros-Lehtinen in a statement.

Ros-Lehtinen called on the Obama administration to use every tool at its disposal to sanction Iranian officials responsible for human rights violations. She urged the US to extend the current travel ban on top Iranian leaders down through the ranks to lower-level officials also deemed responsible for oppressing the Iranian people.

It’s possible that in the long run Egypt’s revolution could herald a wave of democratization throughout the Middle East, say some experts.

“It is conceivable the scenes from Tunis and Cairo could eventually serve as a rallying cry for a reenergized Green Movement in Iran,” writes Stephen Grand, director, US Relations with the Islamic World, at the Brookings Institution.

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