Republicans Challenge Obama Over Iran

Jun 15, 2009 4:45pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: With President Obama and his top aides maintaining a measured public silence in the chaotic aftermath of the elections in Iran, Republicans and prominent conservative voices are ratcheting up the pressure on the president to speak out in support of protesters.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., today issued a statement calling on the president to make a strong public stand: “The Administration’s silence in the face of Iran’s brutal suppression of democratic rights represents a step backwards for homegrown democracy in the Middle East.  President Obama must take a strong public position in the face of violence and human rights abuses.  We have a moral responsibility to lead the world in opposition to Iran’s extreme response to peaceful protests.”

Conservative writer Bill Kristol quoted from Obama’s own book, “The Audacity of Hope,” to argue that Obama needs to speak out.

“Does anyone really think that a strong Obama statement of solidarity with the Iranian people, and a strong rebuke to those who steal elections and shoot demonstrators, wouldn’t help the dissidents in Iran?” Kristol writes, at The Washington Post’s Website.

“I don’t believe it. I don’t believe Barack Obama believes it. As he put it in The Audacity of Hope: ‘We can inspire and invite other people to assert their freedoms;…we can speak out on behalf of local leaders whose rights are violated; and we can apply economic and diplomatic pressure to those who repeatedly violate the rights of their own people.’ ”

“This makes President Obama’s silence over the weekend and so far today about Iran all the more puzzling. So if I may be presumptuous, I say to President Obama: Speak out. Speak out multilaterally and carefully and sensitively. Speak out kindly and gently. But speak out. Speak for liberty. Speak for America.”

With Obama applauding the “robust debate taking place in Iran” on the day of the elections Friday, Republicans have criticized him for his relative silence in the messy, violent aftermath.

Former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” yesterday that Obama should speak out against the Ahmadinejad government.

“The comments by the president last week that there was a robust debate going on in Iran was obviously entirely wrong-headed.  What has occurred is that the election is a fraud, the results are inaccurate, and you're seeing a brutal repression of the people as they protest,” Romney said. “The president ought to come out and state exactly those words, indicate that this has been a terribly managed decision by the autocratic regime in Iran.” 

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden signaled the administration’s wait-and-see attitude toward reports of voting irregularities in Iran.

“There's an awful lot of questions about how this election was run,” Biden said. “And we'll see.  I mean, we're just waiting to see.  We don't have, we don't have enough facts to . . . make a firm judgment.”
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today referred reporters to Biden’s comments.

“Obviously we continue to have concern about what we've seen,” Gibbs told reporters. “Obviously the Iranians are looking into this, as well.  We continue to be heartened by the enthusiasm of young people in Iran.”

The State Department is also taking a cautious approach. State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly said today that it is "deeply troubled by the reports of violence, arrests and possible voting irregularities." On Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "We obviously hope that the outcome reflects the genuine will and desire of the Iranian people."

Today on ABCNews.com’s “Top Line,” Michael O’Hanlon of The Brookings Institution said that while there may be a disconnect between Obama’s public statements on Iran’s elections Friday and his silence now, that’s probably the wisest approach. 

“I’m not sure there’s any better approach,” O’Hanlon said.

UPDATE: The president did address the news out of Iran late this afternoon.

After saying "that we respect Iranian sovereignty,” he added that he is "deeply troubled by the violence I have been seeing on television. I think that the, the democratic process, free speech, the ability for people to peacefully dissent, all those are universal values and need to be respected."

The president said the US "will continue to pursue a tough direct dialogue between our two countries and we’ll see where it takes us.  But even as we do so, it would be wrong for me to be silent about what we’ve seen on the television over the last few days and what I would say to those people who put so much hope and energy and optimism into the political process, I would say to them that the world is watching and inspired by their participation regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the election was."

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