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View from Europe: Obama tough enough on Iran

If US president is too supportive of protests, he turns them into a 'Western plot,' say analysts.

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Some Western columnists have said beleaguered demonstrators would benefit from simply hearing that their cause was understood by a US president that many of them say they admire. Obama's tone today was seen as tougher. He said he was "appalled" by the treatment of protesters, and described the death of Neda Agha-Soltan as "heartbreaking." Ms. Soltan was the young Iranian woman whose death in Tehran was captured on video and seen worldwide.

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US too timid?

On Sunday, GOP leaders including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina charged Obama with "timidity" in the face of a new generation of Iranians that voted against the hard-line mullahs. "The president of the US is supposed to lead the free world, not follow it," Senator Graham said.

Yet most European analysts say that a patient US approach, and a distancing from the kind of pro-democracy invective that became familiar overseas during the previous US administration, would be more effective in promoting the cause championed by Iranians seeking change.

The Mideast director of IFRI in Paris, Denis Bauchard, says that "if you support the opposition in Iran, you make them an agent of the USA – a very risky policy." [Editor's note: The original version misspelled Denis Bauchard's last name.]

In a review here today of Obama's foreign policy, hosted by the French America Foundation, the US president was given good marks by John Negroponte, former US national intelligence director in the Bush administration, and a former French ambassador to Washington, Francois Bujon de l'Estang.

During a question-and-answer session, Richard Burt, a former US ambassador to Germany, said Obama's engagement policy toward Iran was "high risk" since failure could bring repercussions in Israel and by its US supporters. Mr. de l'Estang, now president of Citigroup in Paris, disagreed, saying that he saw "no downsides" and that a failure would simply lead to different tactics. Mr. Negroponte said he had a "high level degree of confidence" in the Obama team, which got "an extremely good start to foreign policy."