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Congress votes to stand by Iran protesters

- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 20, 2009

Congress one-upped President Obama with a tough response to Iran's elections Friday as both chambers voted overwhelmingly to decry Tehran's clampdown on protesters challenging the victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Republicans pushed the resolution after criticizing Mr. Obama's comments on the situation as tepid, arguing that the U.S. should express solidarity for supporters of Mr. Ahmadinejad's challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who is accusing the hard-line government of rigging the election.

The resolution expresses "support for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties and the rule of law," said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican and bill sponsor. "The cause of America is freedom, and in this cause, the American people will not be silent."

The House approved the resolution by a vote of 405 to 1, and the Senate unanimously followed suit hours later. The only lawmaker to vote against the resolution was Texas Rep. Ron Paul. The Republican and former presidential contender routinely opposes measures he views as extraneous government intervention.

Lawmakers said the measure - which acts as a policy statement - is solely aimed at condemning the government's use of violence against its citizens, and intentionally avoids declaring support for either candidate.

"It is not for us to decide who should run Iran, much less determine the real winner of the June 12th election," said co-sponsor Rep. Howard L. Berman, California Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "But we must reaffirm our strong belief that the Iranian people have a fundamental right to express their views about the future of their country freely and without intimidation."

Several top Republican lawmakers - including former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, of Virginia - have been publicly critical of the administration for not taking a tougher stance as the days since the June 12 election have been punctuated with beatings, increased government censorship and restrictions on the foreign press.

Mr. Obama has stopped short of directly criticizing the Iranian government, suggesting they will be judged by how they handle the situation, but offering little judgment himself.

"I'm very concerned based on some of the tenor and tone of the statements that have been made that the government of Iran recognize that the world is watching," Mr. Obama said in an interview with CBS' Harry Smith taped Friday afternoon. "And how they approach and deal with people who are, through peaceful means, trying to be heard will, I think, send a pretty clear signal to the international community about what Iran is and - and is not."

The White House said it welcomed passage of the resolution Friday. "Obviously, we welcome the resolution," said Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, adding that "it echoes the words of President Obama throughout the week."