- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 25, 2009

The White House on Wednesday rescinded invitations to Iranian diplomats to attend July Fourth celebrations at U.S. embassies around the world, in the most concrete action taken so far by the Obama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, walking back from its agenda to engage with Tehran after the crackdown on protests there.

In a message to U.S. diplomats worldwide, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said embassy officials should not only issue no further invitations, but should rescind any that have been made.

“Unfortunately, circumstances have changed, and participation by Iranian diplomats would not be appropriate in light of the unjust actions that the president and I have condemned. For invitations which have been extended, posts should make clear that Iranian participation is no longer appropriate in the current circumstances,” she said in the cable to all U.S. missions.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that “not surprisingly,” no Iranian diplomats had said they were coming. But the invitations were no longer on the table anyway, he said.

“Given the events of the past many days, those invitations will no longer be extended,” Mr. Gibbs said in announcing the government’s decision.

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, more than a week of protests by hundreds of thousands of Iranians have prompted a brutal crackdown by security forces, with government officials putting the death toll at 17 and opposition officials at 249.

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 that 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.”

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.

*Nicholas Kralev contributed to this report.

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