Iran President Tells Obama to Back Off

Iran's Mahmoud Ahmedinejad says Obama repeats past U.S. mistakes.

June 25, 2009 — -- Iran President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad warned U.S. President Barack Obama about his condemnation of state violence against protesters, suggesting it would shut down the possibility of talks between the two states.

"Don't repeat a defeated and lost experience," he said, comparing Obama to his predecessor, President George W. Bush. "You are making a mistake."

Ahmedinejad, who is celebrating his disputed re-election, is backed by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in insisting the protests are illegal. Opposition figurehead Mir Hossein Mousavi released a statement through his Web site on Thursday challenging that view, saying the protests are legal and urging supporters to continue.

Mousavi also said he was under pressure by the Iranian regime to withdraw his election complaint, which challenges Ahmedinejad's landslide win as a fraud. Mousavi accused authorities of rigging the poll, and held them responsible for the bloodshed that ensued from a nearly two-week crackdown on protesters.

Mousavi has not made a major public appearance or statement since Saturday, his spokesman Mohsen Makhmalbaf suggesting his movements are closely watched and controlled.

The government has exercised control over the protests, which since June 15 have dwindled in size from more than a million to a few thousand, using brutal and sometimes deadly force. Eyewitnesses tell ABC News of severe beatings, tear gas, and acid dropped on protesters from above. At least two dozen demonstrators have been killed, while Iranian authorities say protester retaliation killed eight members of the Basij, a religious paramilitary force that reports directly to the Supreme Leader.

"I think we're all watching and I suspect they're still strategizing which direction to move next," said Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution.

"There's also been some suggestions that what the Iranian opposition's going to look to do is just maintain the heat through episodic and unpredictable actions...keep the regime off guard."

President Barack Obama two days ago 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. "I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost."

Amid criticism from Republicans who say he has not offered strong enough backing of the protests of the contested Iranian election, Obama 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."

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.

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.

Confrontations Continue

Iran conceded Monday there were voting problems in as many as 50 cities, saying that the total number of votes in some of these areas outnumbered the number of eligible voters.

State-run Press TV reported on its Web site that as many as 3 million extra votes could have been cast, but according to a spokesman for Iran's Guardian Council, that would not be enough to affect the outcome of the controversial election in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner.

But it is a potentially significant comedown for a regime that has dismissed all election fraud charges.

In the statement, the Guardian Council told demonstrators to "end the sabotage and rioting activities" and described the protests as a "conspiracy" against Iran.

With reporting by Jake Tapper, Karen Travers and Jim Sciutto. The Associated Press contributed to this report.