The White House has rescinded the invitations to Iranian diplomats to attend July Fourth celebrations at U.S. embassies around the world, in the most concrete action taken so far by the Obama administration to walk back from its agenda to engage with Tehran following the crackdown on anti-government protests there.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said nobody from Iran had accepted the invitations, and at this point, the invitations are no longer valid.
“Given the events of the past many days, those invitations will no longer be extended,” Mr. Gibbs said.
An offer from the White House for broader talks with Tehran over its nuclear weapons program, however, still is standing, he said.
“That invitation has also not been addressed, but that invitation continues,” he said.
The Obama administration authorized its embassies to invite Iranian diplomats before the June 12 elections, in an overture that was part of a broader outreach to the regime in Tehran, including a letter sent to the Islamic Republic’s top cleric by the White House.
Since then, the protests of hundreds of thousands of Iranians for more than a week have prompted a brutal crackdown by security forces, with 17 dead according to the government and 249 dead according to opposition officials. President Obama has tried to respond in measured tones but gradually has stepped up his condemnation.
On Tuesday, Mr. Obama said he was “appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days.”
The State Department said earlier this week it was not going to rescind the invitations, but reports emerged Wednesday morning that the administration was reconsidering its stance.
Hours before the White House reversed itself, former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich blasted Mr. Obama for not rescinding the invitations and called on Congress to pass a resolution demanding that the president do so.
“He can’t even bring himself to disinvite the Iranians from the Fourth of July party to celebrate a declaration which said all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Mr. Gingrich said during an interview with reporters and editors at The Washington Times.
“So we’re going to celebrate the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July with Iranian torturers, murderers and, the State Department says itself, the leading state sponsor of terrorism on the planet,” he said. “I just think when you see an administration that is that weak, [Mr. Obama] may give [former Democratic President] Jimmy Carter a renewed reputation for strength.”
Spokesmen for Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress said Wednesday morning that they were not aware of any such resolutions being drafted, though a Republican spokesman said there was a good possibility of something developing.
“[It] wouldn’t surprise me,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
The president was asked about the Independence Day invitations during Tuesday’s press conference but did not address the issue directly.
“We don’t have formal diplomatic relations with Iran. I think that we have said that if Iran chooses a path that abides by international norms and principles, then we are interested in healing some of the wounds of 30 years, in terms of U.S.-Iranian relations. But that is a choice that the Iranians are going to have to make,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Gingrich said: “Here you have a self-styled eloquent president who loves his own eloquence, relies on his own eloquence, who is mute. He can’t even bring himself to say [that] maybe our Fourth of July parties shouldn’t have the dictatorship represented during the period of its killing and imprisoning people.”
About an hour after Mr. Gibbs announced the change in White House policy, Mr. Gingrich commented from his Twitter account.
“President Obama did the right thing,” he said.
Mr. Gingrich also had harsh words for the White House press corps, which he called “the most timid White House press corps in American history.”
He said that the president’s decision to call on a blogger from the Huffington Post, after White House aides invited the blogger to a press conference Tuesday and indicated he would be given a question, made the press conference “an orchestrated internal rally.”
“Nobody in the White House press corps jumped up and said, ‘What is going on here?’” Mr. Gingrich said. “Maybe they’re unnerved by the economic circumstances of their industry, but they’ve clearly lost any willingness to stand up to the president and ask anything that resembles toughness.”