- The Washington Times - Friday, June 12, 2009

President Obama on Friday lauded the overwhelming voter participation in Iran’s national elections and said that he thinks the Iranian people have set the stage for improved relations with the U.S., no matter who emerges as the next president of the Islamic Republic.

“We are excited to see what appears to be a robust debate taking place in Iran,” Mr. Obama said, referring to the thousands of Iranians who have poured into the streets in massive rallies for several days leading up to Friday’s election.

Mr. Obama spoke to reporters in the Rose Garden after a short prepared statement on a legislation on Capitol Hill. After finishing his statement he was walking back into the Oval Office when a reporter asked about the Iranian elections.

Mr. Obama stopped, walked several steps back to the microphones, looking eager to address the issue.

He hinted that his speech in Egypt earlier this month laid the groundwork for his administration to “send a clear message that we think there is the possibility of change” in Iran.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was expected, as recently as a few weeks ago, to roll over the three opposition candidates who were approved by the committee of Islamic clerics who hold sway over Iranian politics and governance.

But Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister in the 1980s, captured the support of large numbers of Iranians, and has ridden a wave of popular momentum to become a real threat to the hardline Mr. Ahmadinejad.

“Ultimately the election is for the Iranians to decide, but just as has been true in Lebanon, what can be true in Iran as well is that you’re seeing people looking at new possibilities,” Mr. Obama said.

“Whoever ends up winning in Iran, the fact that there’s been a robust debate hopefully will help advance our ability to engage them in new ways,” said Mr. Obama, who has shifted U.S. policy away from the Bush administration’s attempts to isolate Iran and toward an attempt to talk with Tehran.

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