- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 23, 2009

UPDATED:

Attempting to bat down Republican critics who say he hasn’t been strong enough on Iran, President Obama said Tuesday he deplores violence but insisted that he wants to remain out of the fray over Iran’s disputed elections.

Mr. Obama said despite being “appalled and outraged” by the violence and injustice since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner of the election earlier this month, the United States respects Iran’s sovereignty and “is not at all interfering in Irans affairs.”

“This is not about the United States or the West; this is about the people of Iran, and the future that they and only they will choose,” he told reporters in a press conference from the Brady Briefing Room at the White House. “The Iranian people can speak for themselves.”

Mr. Obama said he “strongly condemn[s]” the actions of Iran’s government and mourns the lives lost in Iran. The new Democratic president praised the “timeless dignity” of the Iranian people and journalists and referenced Neda Agha-Soltan, the woman whose murder was captured on a video spread around the world on the Internet who has become a symbol of the protests.

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Mr. Obama called the images captured on the video “heartbreaking.”

“We have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets. While this loss is raw and painful, we also know this: Those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history,” he said.

Asked specifically about the 26-year old Iranian women shot and killed by security forces during a protest on Saturday, Mr. Obama said it was “heartbreaking” to see the video.

“Anybody who sees it knows that there is something fundamentally unjust about that,” he said.

The president decried as “patently false” accusations that the United States, the CIA or Mr. Obama himself are telling rioters to “riot some more” is involved in instigating protests and said they are “an obvious attempt to distract people from what is truly taking place within Iran’s borders.”

Mr. Obama also dismissed a reporter who asked why he took “so long” to make a strong statement, saying that he believes he’s been forceful from the start, and said he was unconcerned about Republican Sen. John McCain’s criticism that he was not doing enough on Iran.

“It’s our duty to stand up for people who are struggling for freedom,” Mr. McCain said on C-Span’s Washington Journal Tuesday morning.

Mr. Obama said while Republican critics may fill the 24-hour news cycle in the “hothouse of Washington,” the argument isn’t relevant in Iran.

“I think that all of us share a belief that we want justice to prevail, but only I’m the president of the United States,” Mr. Obama said after being asked about Mr. McCain, his 2008 rival. “I’ve got responsibilities in making certain that we are continually advancing our national security interests and that we are not used as a tool to be exploited by other countries.”

“Frankly, a lot of them aren’t paying a lot of attention to what’s being said on Capitol Hill and probably aren’t spending a lot of time thinking about what’s being said here,” Mr. Obama continued. “Members of Congress, they’ve got their constitutional duties, and I’m sure they will carry them out in the way that they think is appropriate. I’m president of the United States, and I’ll carry out my duties as I think are appropriate.”

Mr. Obama said he is still interested in talks with Iran, but added it’s a “choice the Iranians are going to have to make.”

Mr. Obama also referenced his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo at the beginning of June and said Iran must govern “through consent, not coercion.”

“Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people have a universal right to assembly and free speech. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights, and heed the will of its own people,” he said. “That is what Irans own people are calling for, and the Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government.”

The president rejected a suggestion that he was employing tougher rhetoric on Iran in recent days in reaction to criticism from Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and other lawmakers about his low-key early response to the crisis.

Mr. Obama called on a Huffington Post reporter who had solicited direct questions from Iranians online. Asked under what conditions he would accept Mr. Ahmadinejad’s re-election, Mr. Obama repeated his desire to stay out of Iran’s internal political turmoil.

“There are significant questions about the legitimacy of the election,” he said, adding again it was not up to the the United States to decide who is the Iranian leader.

Mr. Obama also made a pitch for energy legislation and his health care plan.

“When it comes to health care, the status quo is unsustainable. Reform is not a luxury, it is a necessity,” he said.

It is his fourth formal White House news conference since becoming president Jan. 20.

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