Obama Steps Up Rhetoric on Iran

President condemns "unjust actions" by Iran and defends tone of his comments.

ByABC News
June 23, 2009, 1:03 PM

June 23, 2009 — -- President Barack Obama today issued his strongest statement yet on the recent violence in Iran, deploring the loss of innocent civilian life and condemning what he called "unjust actions" taken by the government there.

"The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days," he said at a White House press conference today. "I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost."

Obama defended his wide-ranging health care plan and said he is confident of passing health care reform, but he stopped short of saying that he would veto any health care plan that does not include the widely pilloried "public option" he has been pushing.

Amid criticism from Republicans who say he has not offered strong enough backing of the protests of the contested Iranian election, Obama today repeatedly stressed that the United States respects Iran's sovereignty and does not want to meddle in its affairs but acknowledged the "courage and dignity" of the Iranian people.

"We have seen the timeless dignity of tens of thousands Iranians marching in silence. We have seen people of all ages risk everything to insist that their votes are counted and their voices heard," he said. "Those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history."

Watch ABC News Primetime: 'Questions for the President -- Prescription for America,' Wednesday, June 24, at 10 p.m. ET

Obama said the video of the death of an Iranian woman named Neda Agha-Soltan was "heartbreaking" and that all who see it "knows that there's something fundamentally unjust about that."

He expressed concerns that peaceful demonstrators are discouraged from expressing their opinions out of fear of government retribution.

"I think it's important for us to make sure that -- that we let the Iranian people know that we are watching what's happening, that they are not alone in this process," he said.

Even with recent events, Obama remained open to talking to Iran's leaders, saying his administration is "still waiting to see how it plays itself out."

"What we've been saying over the last several days, the last couple of weeks, obviously, is not encouraging in terms of the path that this regime may choose to take," he said. "And the fact that they are now in the midst of an extraordinary debate taking place in Iran, you know, may end up coloring how they respond to the international community as a whole. We are going to monitor and see how this plays itself out before we make any judgments about how we proceed."

The president was non-committal about future steps with the rogue regime, which he has repeatedly suggested should engage in diplomacy with the West.

The president's opening remarks were carried live on Iranian Press TV, which is under state control.

Iran's state TV reported today that the country's top legislative authority, the Guardian Council, urged Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei today to extend the deadline for complaints by the defeated candidates, Reuters reported.

But the Guardian Council has rejected defeated candidate Mir Hossein's Mousavi request that the results be voided and a new election held.

Reuters also quoted Iranian TV as saying that the slain protester, Agha-Soltan was not shot by the government's security forces, and that the filming of the scene and the way it spread quickly over the Internet and foreign media suggested the incident was planned.

A man by the name of Caspian Makan, who said he was the fiance of Agha-Soltan, told BBC Persian TV that "she was near the area, a few streets away, and got out of the car for a few minutes when she was shot.

"The authorities are aware that everybody in Iran and throughout the whole world knows about her story. So that's why they didn't want a memorial service. They were afraid that lots people could turn up at the event. So as things stand now, we are not allowed to hold any gatherings to remember Neda," he said.

With most foreign reporters expelled from Iran by the government, there is little way to verify the authenticity of information coming out of the country. About 23 journalists have been jailed along with protestors.

Reports say the government is now also cracking down harder on technology, with twitter and other social media outlets becoming the main way for protestors to get their thoughts out to the world.