- The Washington Times - Monday, June 22, 2009

A parade of Republican lawmakers pressed President Obama on Sunday for stronger public support of Iranians protesting the outcome of the country’s contested presidential election, with one senator calling the administration’s approach “timid.”

But many Republican members of Congress held back vigorous criticism, agreeing with Democrats that the president faces a difficult challenge in publicly dealing with Iran’s recent crackdown on nationwide demonstrations.

As the demonstrations in Tehran and elsewhere in the country continued, Mr. Obama has stiffened his response while trying to avoid giving Iran’s theocratic leadership the opportunity to blame the United States for the unrest that has swept the country since the June 12 vote.

“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,” Mr. Obama said in a CBS interview released Sunday. “We shouldn’t be playing into that.”

The interview was conducted Friday for broadcast Monday on “The Early Show.”

Mr. Obama said nothing on the subject of Iran on Sunday and did not dispatch surrogates to Sunday’s talk shows, leaving them largely in the hands of Republicans. A spokesman said he met foreign-policy advisers for more than 30 minutes to discuss the situation in Iran.

Among the Republican lawmakers, Sen. Lindsey Graham gave the most damning condemnation by accusing Mr. Obama of being “timid and passive more than I would like.”

While the South Carolina Republican acknowledged that Mr. Obama is “certainly moving in the right direction” on handling the Iranian situation, he said other nations have been more outspoken toward Tehran than the administration.

“So I hope that we’ll hear more of this [from Mr. Obama] because the young men and women taking the streets in Tehran need our support,” Mr. Graham said on ABC’s “This Week.” “The president of the United States is supposed to lead the free world, not follow it.”

Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Select Committee on Intelligence, said the president must grab this opportunity “to help shape this debate and get new leadership into Iran.”

“He needs to speak to the American people,” Mr. Hoekstra said on “Fox News Sunday.” “But, more importantly, he needs to speak to the people of Iran, the people of the Middle East, and he has to make a forceful statement on behalf of the people on the streets for freedom and democracy.”

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said, “I believe that we could be more forceful than we have” in dealing with Iran.

“If America stands for democracy, and all of these demonstrations are going on in Tehran and other cities over there, and people don’t think that we really care, then obviously they’re going to question, do we really believe in our principles?” Mr. Grassley said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Even Democrats urged Mr. Obama on Sunday to take a tougher stance against the Iranian regime.

“It’s been the time to do that for quite some time - to try and restrain their nuclear program, so I was for that [for a] long time before this election,” said Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat, on “Fox News Sunday.”

But Mr. Bayh added that the president “is handling a rapidly evolving, very complex situation about as well as you could expect.”

“He has put us clearly on the side of the reformers, clearly on the side of fair and free elections, clearly condemned the violence,” he said. “He’s done it in a smart way.”

Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey said the president “he has gotten it just right” in responding to Iran.

“We should not politicize this issue,” Mr. Casey said on “State of the Union.” “The key thing here is striking the right balance, telling those who are protesting that we share their values, but also making sure that we keep our eye on the ball here.”

Indiana’s other senator, Richard G. Lugar, said Iran’s supreme leader has pushed the conflict there toward a “very brutal outcome.”

Mr. Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made a serious political blunder by refusing to consider demonstrators’ demands for a rerun of the June 12 election that returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office.

“The challenge continues, which is going to come to a conclusion one way or another, in which either the protesters bring about change or they’re suppressed,” the six-term senator said on “State of the Union.”

A key U.S. ally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said he won’t second-guess Mr. Obama’s public handling of the Iranian situation.

“I’ve spoken to him a number of times on this subject,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “There’s no question we’d all like to see a different Iran with different policies.”

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