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President Obama Addresses Situation In Iran

By Kevin Robinson in News on Jun 24, 2009 2:40PM

The international news of the last week has been filled with images and descriptions of the post-election turmoil within Iran. As tens of thousands of people in Tehran and around the nation filled the streets to protest what they believe is a stolen election, the American president has been remarkably mum on the whole affair. "The last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States," Obama said in an interview recorded Friday. "We shouldn't be playing into that."

As Iranian paramilitary and police forces cracked down on the protests, beating and arresting people and breaking up gatherings in the streets of cities like Tehran and Shiraz, Obama has found himself in a tougher position, having to take a more defined stance on the unrest. In a press conference held yesterday afternoon, the President spoke more forcefully of the need for peaceful democratic dissent in Iran. Echoing the rhetoric of the campaign that got him elected, he tried to make it clear that blaming the United States for unrest in Iran won't work to quell a population that wants a voice at the polls:

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

I've made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not interfering with Iran's affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and the dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore the violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.

The Iranian people are trying to have a debate about their future. Some in Iran -- some in the Iranian government, in particular, are trying to avoid that debate by accusing the United States and others in the West of instigating protests over the election. These accusations are patently false. They're an obvious attempt to distract people from what is truly taking place within Iran's borders. This tired strategy of using old tensions to scapegoat other countries won't work anymore in Iran. This is not about the United States or the West; this is about the people of Iran, and the future that they -- and only they -- will choose.

While Obama has tried to stay out of what is clearly an issue internal to Iran, opposition presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi called for a peaceful demonstration in front of the Iranian parliament today at 4 p.m. Tehran time (6:30 a.m. CDT). Amid rumors that there is a power struggle going on within Iran's powerful Council of Guardians, this demonstration may be the end of the Sea of Green movement there. Or it may be the beginning of a new era of democracy and diplomacy in Persia.

Be sure to revisit our photos from last week's rally in Chicago. We've been refreshing the New York Times's newblog The Lede for timely updates of the news in Iran. And's Big Picture has posted stunning photos from recent events.