Obama resists pressure to speak out more forcefully on Iran

Supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossien Mousavi protest in Tehran in this image taken from amateur video posted online from Tehran on Saturday. Eyewitnesses described fierce clashes after some 3,000 protesters, many wearing black, chanted "Death to the dictator!" and "Death to dictatorship!" near Revolution Square in downtown Tehran. Police fired tear gas, water cannons and guns but it was not clear if they were firing live ammunition.

Amid calls for a tougher response, President Obama is striking a cautious tone toward an Iranian government crackdown on demonstrators.

On Friday, both houses of Congress passed resolutions condemning Tehran’s actions against people protesting the disputed presidential election. But in an interview later Friday on CBS TV, Mr. Obama held firm in resisting turning the conflict into a dispute between the United States and Iran.

“What you're seeing in Iran are hundreds of thousands of people who believe their voices were not heard and who are peacefully protesting and -- and seeking justice,” Obama told CBS’s Harry Smith. “And the world is watching. And we stand behind those who are seeking justice in a peaceful way.”

Obama later said: “The last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States.”

The congressional resolution expressed support for Iranian citizens who value freedom and the rule of law, and condemned government violence against the protesters. The resolution also protested Iranian government interference with electronic communications, such as the Internet and cell phones.

Speaking on the House floor, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, a member of the Republican leadership, said, "We must rally the world around the cause of the Iranian people, and I urge the administration, I urge President Obama to follow the lead of this House to speak out on behalf of the Iranian people and their quest for freedom and human rights.”

The White House welcomed the congressional resolution, which is nonbinding. Congressional Democrats had worked with the White House to tone down the language.

The real test for Obama will come if the crackdown escalates. On Saturday, protesters were met by a large show of force, following a warning Friday by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that there would be bloodshed if protests continued. Administration officials have said if the situation in Iran worsens markedly, the White House response could shift.

But for now, Obama appears intent on sticking to the tone he struck in his speech in Cairo on June 4.

“Rather than remain trapped in the past, I've made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward,” Obama said. “The question now is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.”

“There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect,” he continued, saying that on nuclear weapons, “we have reached a decisive point.”

[On Saturday, the White House released this statement by Obama on Iran:

“The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.

"As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.

"Martin Luther King once said -- ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness.”]

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